I tuned in to Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day hoping, of course, that it would be funny. But I was also curious to see if a theory I was forming would gain some support.
After watching a limp Steve Martin-hosted episode a few weeks back, one that was filled with jokes about how many times Steve Martin had hosted and how big a genius he was (though you wouldn’t have known it from those 90 minutes), I started to wonder if SNL should put a cap on the number of times someone can host. You figure that by, say, a person’s 10th time around, the show’s writers will have pretty well exhausted their well of jokes related to said person.
Saturday’s show starred Alec Baldwin, who has hosted nearly as many times as Martin has. But aside from a bit with his 30 Rock co-star Jack McBrayer in the monologue and a fake ad in which he pitches a line of instructional DVDs about acting, the jokes weren’t especially host-centric (the Jonas Brothers, the night’s musical guests, had just as many sketches — one live with Baldwin as the “oldest Jonas” and the digital short — devoted to them).
OK. So maybe the overused-host theory isn’t workable, at least not based on this very small sample. But Baldwin’s underwhelming installment of the show was the third in as many weeks (in between Martin and Baldwin, Bradley Cooper hosted an episode that had its moments but was inconsistent). It’s worth wondering why the show, which was so sharp throughout the fall, has hit such a rough patch lately.
I think it might boil down to something as simple as everyone being a little worn out.
The SNL cast and crew create about an hour (the length of the show minus music and ads) of comedy every week the show is on. Saturday’s show was the 16th SNL has done this season, not counting the three “Weekend Update Thursday” specials that aired in October. In most years the show doesn’t get around to its 16th episode until at least mid-March.
Without an election as fodder and with comics still trying to figure out how to come at the new political balance of power (hint: Saturday’s weak cold open about the Republican congressional leadership, who aren’t well-known enough to be fodder for parody, isn’t it), it’s not a huge surprise that the political sketches have faltered some since November. The loss of Amy Poehler, the show’s most versatile performer, has hurt too.
But sketches like “Vincent Price’s Valentine’s Day Special” from Saturday just feel flat. The Vincent Price Halloween sketch was an inspired piece of weirdness (with a fantastic James Mason impression by Jon Hamm), but the Valentine’s one was a pale copy of its predecessor. The latest “Cougar Den” sketch felt just as played-out. Seth Meyers has done a nice job as the solo “Update” anchor since Poehler left, but it feels like the only consistent part of the show of late.
The show has also had a tendency to run a little short lately. The end of Saturday’s episode was padded out with a couple of commercial parodies that had previously aired; we’ve also seen extended music breaks from the band and other filler. That’s not a good sign.
SNL is off for the next two weeks. Here’s hoping the cast and crew can use the time to rest up and come back refreshed for a better run in the spring.