Monday, December 15, 2003

AND THE WINNER IS: Continuing with our absurdly popular end-of-year roundup, I feel the need to recognize a winner in the category of Most Deteriorated Cultural Icon of 2003.

In a year in which an already-deteriorated Michael Jackson was felled by the Bashir documentary and criminal charges, and in which Madonna managed a trifecta of generating a widely-ignored-and-panned movie, book and album in a single twelve-month span, plus the New York Times suffering embarassment after embarrassment after embarassment, it's hard to pick just one winner.

But I'd like to do so anyway, because this was the year that Saturday Night Live fell into the shitter again.

Come on: name one memorable sketch from this season. One that provoked a laugh from actual humor, and not just a smile of recognition.

Two main factors has led to the show's swift decline, so far as I can tell:

1. Will Ferrell. It's been a year and a half, and they haven't been able to replace the most versatile, reliable performer since the late Phil Hartman. Hell, they haven't even been able to replace Tracy Morgan.

At a time when the show has never had as good a group of female performers in Dratch-Fey-Poehler-and-especially-Rudolph (except when they had all four, plus Gasteyer), the men are weak -- and Jimmy Fallon still, especially, sucks. When you don't have talented white guys to anchor the show, you can't do a lot of mainstream topical humor effectively, and it shows.

2. Smugness and Cycles. SNL is cyclical, and every once in a while, you need to dump out the old and freshen the blood. Sometimes you need to start from scratch, as they did in 1985 and 1995, in order to find the new talent.

(At the very least, no one -- and this means you, Darrell Hammond -- has any reason to stick around for a ninth season.)

Because what happens when people stay around too long is exactly what you're seeing now: even talented people like Tina Fey start coasting on attitude and a sense of entitlement-to-laughs, and not good writing. Have you seen Weekend Update lately? She's now playing the role of "Tina Fey, Sassy Anchor", rather than actually being the Tina Fey we all fell for a few years ago.

Cast members now try to make each other laugh (see Sanz-Fallon, any week), rather than the audience, and have totally exhausted their library of recurring characters. I mean, does the world need more Darrell Hammond-as-Chris-Matthews? More Donatella Versace?

Even when new talent is brought in, like Fred Armisen and Finesse Mitchell, it's not like they're given anything to do, given the current star system that says that Jimmy Fallon can do whatever he wants, even if he's not funny doing it. Their SNL stays will be as memorable as those of Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller and Siobhan Fallon -- and that's if they're lucky.

It's time for Lorne to take out the trash and start all over again, again. He's good at it. Let Maya Rudolph have her film career, and let us hope for the best in 2004-05. This season's already as good as over.

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