Yeah, but was "Saturday Night Live" ever really a political show?
No, and I think that's what's wrong with this article in today's NY Times.
"It's such a safe, wishy-washy target, as opposed to going after the powers that be," said Adam McKay, an "S.N.L." writer from 1995 to 2001, and its head writer from 1996 to 1999. "We always knew that the No. 1 reason the show exists is to do impersonations of the president, our leaders, the Donald Trumps of the world - the people who need to be made fun of. And the show works when you do that, and it doesn't work when you don't do that." By emphasizing broad comedy about celebrity culture, Mr. McKay said, "S.N.L." had ceded considerable ground to popular rivals like Comedy Central's "Daily Show With Jon Stewart."
I call bullshit. This guy is just participating in the time-honored tradition of saying everything went downhill after the speaker left. The example of incisive political satire from the show that this article dredges up is Chevy Chase's impression of Gerald Ford, which was indeed innovative in that he didn't try to imitate Ford's mannerisms very much and also in that it was as apolitical an impression of a sitting President as you could get. Dana Carvey, while actually bothering to imitate Bush I, followed Chase's lead and managed to pick on the President while mostly avoiding picking on his policies.
Frankly, it seems ridiculous to expect a format that is 30 years old to be innovative anymore. The irony of this article is they are claiming that it's not an innovative show because its direction has changed.
"With all the tabloids and 'Access Hollywood' entertainment shows, we're already pounded on with Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan," said Heather O'Neill, co-author of a weekly critique of "S.N.L." for the pop-culture blog whatevs.org. "When that starts being brought into a show that's supposed to be controversial, it makes me lose interest in it." Whereas "S.N.L." writers of previous eras could generate "an entire sketch out of nothing," said her writing partner, Jason Nummer, "now they're based on whoever the paparazzi are targeting."
But what I find most article is the underpinnings of the argument that the show has lost its "edge". The first is the notion that celebrity and paparazzi stuff is inherently fluffy and not political. The celebrities that the show is being criticized for focusing on are Paris Hilton, Star Jones, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Anna Nicole Smith and the like. The stories that circulate in the gossip rags are hardly apolitical--most have roughly the same message and that is to list the behaviors that women should avoid if they want to be good girls. Famous women's weight gain and loss, drug use, sexual behaviors, and partying screams at us from grocery store gossip rags and daytime televisions shows aimed at mostly female audiences, reminding us day in and out that the worst thing a woman can do is make a spectacle of herself.
Not to say that Tina Fey is critiquing the message, really, but part of the effectiveness of the gossip rags is that they don't garner attention from the "important" world and therefore they can work their magic of shaming women for misbehaviors like taping yourself having sex or being fat without being held up to the same level of critique as "important" things like how the President shrugs his shoulders.
Maybe, just maybe, the critics of the notorious boys' club show have a teeny-tiny problem with the fact that a woman is running the show now and she's actually exerting control over the content.
The show's embrace of celebrity travails may have been speeded by the May 2002 departure of Will Ferrell, who took an entourage of recurring characters with him. "He was a huge alpha male," said James Andrew Miller, the author, with Tom Shales, of the book "Live From New York," an oral history of "S.N.L." "You just stick him in the middle of a sketch and you can't take your eyes off him."
Will Ferrell is a funny guy, but I wouldn't say his stuff is particularly profound political satire, either, as his main concern is creating characters that skewer everyday people and their peculiarities. But times change, and there is an alpha female on the program now and her main interest is skewering celebrity culture. If the gossip rags are mostly interested in the misbehaviors of women, then that means that a show oriented towards mocking the gossip rags will have a lot more space for female actors to do impressions than "SNL" usually gives their female actors. Try as I might, I can't really find the heart to be angry about that. Frankly, I think it's about time.