SNL—How one sketch encompasses my lost vibes for Saturday Night Live
A tired cycle of setting up and repeating a joke until it flatlines
Writer’s note— I’m not trying to dunk on any single filmmaker or leave a negative review. This article reflects more why I, a 40-something white dude, cannot watch most SNL sketches anymore. I’m genuinely curious if anyone else feels this. The SNL formula has become so expected, I feel like I’m at an intersection waiting for three separate accidents in a five minute clip. Each more anticipated than the last.
Since my intention is to be constructive, let’s first look at what makes any scene stand on its own.
Screenwriting context from the master
“The worst crime you can commit is telling the audience something they already know.” -Aaron Sorkin
What Aaron means is that we don’t need training wheels or lines like “Sister” to establish that the female on screen is someone’s sister. Audiences secretly like to be in the dark—intelligent minds will catch up. Since I imagine you’ve seen Sorkin’s gem The Social Network, recall the opening scene. It’s doesn’t open with “thanks for coming to the bar tonight to have a drink and discuss life’s nuances and our relationship.” Before the film starts, they’ve already gone zero to sixty. This is the script’s opening. I love this.
Now, Aaron had a lot more time to develop the scene than SNL typically does, but what I’m suggesting is not a full overhaul of the process.
Back to SNL
When this aired in October 2020, the term “social distancing” had been used and abused to lunar heights. Every couple in the world knew how far six feet away was, made sure to move seats, blankets, etc. to get that six feet.
When we fade from black, SNL establishes where we’re at with a wrong-lens exterior shot, in this case a suburban home at dusk:
A quick social exercise. If you were to invite two couples to your backyard fire pit, think about what you’d say via text, phonecall or DM. Got your script? Good. Now write it down. Pretty boring, right? That’s why this sketch’s opening lines drag on every level:
“Thank you so much for doing this, it’s so nice to have a reason to get out of the house.
“Well, we thought that we could at least get together out here so we can uh, social distance on the deck.”
“As much as we wanna see people we know it’s still a little nerve-racking.”
We haven’t seen you in so long!
We haven’t seen you in so long!
We’ve been deep in our own bubble.
I’m glad we did this.
It’s such a weird time.
It really is.
WE GET IT
We already, painfully and repeatedly, know what a social distanced hang looks like. And we know it’s weird. And now I feel weird watching this.
We’re now we’re thirty agonizing seconds into the sketch. Are you ready, are you prepared now? Got your wine and cheese and snacks and dogs and cats all settled? Cause here it comes!
“It’s a cliche, but it’s unpresidented”
Then there’s a back and forth akin to a Twitter thread that happened weeks prior to this episode (SNL’s known for this too). And while people think SNL sets the tone for timely comedy, they got scooped four years earlier by (of all brands) Merriam-Webster:
The sketch slogs on. Kate McKinnon suddenly warps from sober to drunk.
Someone uses the wrong word again. Lines are flubbed.
Curveball! Someone uses the wrong word again. Tensions rise.
Someone uses the wrong word again, and that word is COVID. The character instead says COVIN. This is supposed to be over-the-top funny, audience, why aren’ you laughing!
And, scene. The “Applause” monitor blinks, the audience obliges. Society is fun. This is the type clip that, if a friend sent it to me, I would think less of their ability to judge comedic content.
Let’s take a more timely sketch. I’m writing this on Sunday morning, 8 hours after the cold open was published. Here is our establishing shot:
And here is the sketch set:
And the FIRST words of dialog?
Then the audience decides to applaud. Why?
They then show words and read the words out loud.
And they do that over and over.
Please SNL, stop doing this. Here’s the full clip.
Some clips break the cycle, and truthfully I like SNL’s witty dressing room back and forths more than over-produced sketches like the fire pit one.
And the Bill Burr beer tasting skit is fucking hilarious.