TV Land: The Life and Death of Saturday Night Live

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The year was 1975. The country, still a fresh-faced youth barely 200 years old, was experiencing perhaps its proudest moment in history — the Watergate scandal. Everyone’s favorite lady-in-a-dress-touching-letters game show, “Wheel of Fortune,” premiered on NBC and, according to Wikipedia, my new favorite Great Lakes region orchestra, the Chippewa Valley Symphony sounded its inaugural tunes. It was an astounding year only to be made more so by the introduction of one of American television’s longest-running programs — Saturday Night Live.

Though it has yet to beat the 63 years of airtime that “Meet the Press” boasts, SNL recently celebrated the opening of their 37th season this last Saturday. And boy, was it on. I wasn’t able to catch the live broadcast due to a prior commitment that involved popcorn, a warehouse in Oakland and a screening of what I’m pretty certain constitutes cinema’s first existentialist hip-hop porn besides “Step Up 2: The Streets.” I’m not sure I’m a fan of this burgeoning genre, but given the alternative, I’m not a huge fan of Saturday Night Live either.

I like to imagine the typical SNL fan as a pot-bellied man (more boy than man), around the age of 25 but mentally around 12, who buys his pants from Costco. On second thought, his mother buys his trousers. He stays at home, encased in an odorous sweat that sticks to the vinyl of his tattered La-Z-Boy recliner. He’s in a state of arrested development, stuck between the sophistication of finer, scripted sitcoms and the cavernous pit that can be sketch comedy. Also, he has a mullet. This has little to no relevance, but it is the hair style that most compliments those ill-fitting Costco pants. Though, even without the mullet, this guy is a loser.

Given that example, it would be most logical to opine SNL’s stupidity, malign the show that presents Eddie Murphy’s hot tub escapades as funny and is notable as the sight of Ashlee Simpson’s demise. But, that’s not what’s happening here. As a show that is far older than I am, SNL deserves at least a few paragraphs of thoughtful consideration. Sure, it has its high points and its many, many low points. You can only have one Tina Fey Sarah Palin impression per 100 Chris Kattan Mr. Peepers. Though, however skewed and obnoxious that ratio can be, SNL still has some life in it, even if that life is barely breathing, submerged and suffocating beneath the show’s stifling ooze.

The argument could be easily made that like the Emmys, Saturday Night Live is obsolete and irrelevant. Any Adam Sandler bit would be proof enough of that point. And, furthermore, the increasing shift away from studio audiences to single-camera format would seem to place SNL among the antiquated remains of a “Cheers” or ’70s variety hour. But Saturday Night Live has evolved, albeit slowly, with the times and become the go-to hotbed for upcoming comedic stars and writers. From the late great John Belushi to the dicks in a box of Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, SNL’s influence is a shadow difficult to escape from. To note, a dick in a box can cast a large shadow given the right man.

And that right man would be someone like Bill Hader. Hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma (who knew they had residents?) and with a face that vaguely recalls a reptilian charm, he has no shortage of comedic girth. Unlike veteran SNL star Steve Martin, Hader is not a stand-up comedian nor does he endorse overpopulation by starring in “Cheaper by the Dozen.” No, Hader is unique in his ability to capture the eccentricity of our generation. Perhaps more than Andy Samberg’s Digital Shorts, Hader’s offbeat impressions of Vincent Price and his peculiarly specific characters like the cultural vanguard Stefon prove that Saturday Night Live is still, as the kids say, “with it.” Seth Meyers’ “Weekend Updates” might be mediocre at best, but SNL still harbors the occasional talented gem, like Hader or Samberg, who can articulate what we youths laugh at — penises and laser cats.