Watching Canadian singer/songwriter and actor Drake on season 39 episode 11, it becomes clear that SNL is still crazy after all these years. Despite its longevity the show feels the same. After the obligatory introductory skit, which ends with the excited delivery of “It’s Saturday Night,” followed by the dulcet tones of 95 year-old Don Pardo calling off the names of this episode’s players; it almost feels like the viewer has stepped into a time machine and gone back to 1975 when the show first started.
This sense of time travel does not require John Cusack or his Hot Tub Time Machine. The comedy show has had many different casts and some seasons have delivered better comedy punches than others. Each ensemble, though, delivered its own version of humor and thumbed its nose at the establishment after its own fashion.
Saturday Night Live debuted October 11, 1975. This “outside the box” comedy show made stars of the first ensemble lineup. Lorne Michaels brought together a group that soon epitomized the type of performer required to make SNL work successfully. Comic entertainers like Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner soon became household names who gather fans like honey catches flies.
Over the years, co-creator Lorne Michaels left and returned. Careers were launched and the new stars left the SNL stages to pursue fame and more money than NBC could pay. Before the original alumni left the show after leaving their comedy mark on the network and American living rooms, traditions were created – like spoof commercials that looked real – and topical news jokes that began with a news anchor who said, “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not.”
Cast members have changed on an almost regular basis since the show started and the format has been tweaked, finetuned and adapted for a changing public’s taste and the intrusion of all things politically correct. It is refreshing, however, to see that SNL is still crazy after all these years.
The latest episode with Drake, who proved that he can do comedy very well thank you, and which featured Sasheer Zamata in her Saturday Night Live debut was not overtly funny, but, it did contain moments that entered into almost instant classic gold in terms of laughs. The area that managed to deliver the few belly laughs was the Weekend News segment of the show.
The inclusion of the “dog cam” gag, which showed a terrier with a mini cam on one “shoulder” and a cigarette dangling from its mouth, and the recurring gag featuring Jacqueline Bisset’s rather confusing behaviour at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on the same night as episode 11 on the 39th season of SNL both delivered their comic punches very well. Other gags in the segment did not fare as well, but, overall this was the highlight of the show. Equalled only by the Justin Bieber gag.
Topical news segments aside; the show’s latest season has been scrabbling to find its footing. The opening of the season with another alumnus Tina Fey making her triumphant return hosting the show, pretty much set the tone, and the pace, of all the episodes thus far in the current season. So far, guest hosts have included Miley Cyrus, Bruce Willis, John Goodman and Lady Gaga, amongst others.
These hosts have done well, but, the regulars have been struggling. Sasheer Zamata with her low key debut, she is the first black female comic performer to be on the show since 2007, had very little to do in her first episode. She was outshone by Drake who was doing double duty as the guest host as well as guest musician and he kept the newest member of the troupe in the shadows as a result.
Drake shared the honor of double duty with Miley Cyrus who did the same thing in her episode 2 appearance, although, she did do a cameo later when actor Edward Norton hosted the show for episode 4. Topical humor is what SNL does best and last night’s show proved that SNL is still crazy after all the years. On a closing note, Hayley Mills look-a-like Kate McKinnon really steals whatever comic gag she is in. Her Justin Bieber was a scream and this woman’s comic timing is impeccable. Next week’s episode, featuring Jonah Hill, will be another chance for McKinnon to shine. Hopefully Hill can keep up.
By Michael Smith