Saturday Night Live: The Pros and Cons

Kasey Corra '22, Co Assistant Editor-in-Chief

It’s no secret to my friends that I really enjoy watching Saturday Night Live. I binged their best content during quarantine and was very hyped for their in-person return a few weeks ago. Writers John Mulaney and Bill Hader are my go-to feel good celebrities and I have a picture of Pete Davidson on my bedroom wall. And although I find their production and writing quality very impressive for the constant time crunch, SNL’s content is often controversial and under scrutiny from their weekly audience and the country as a whole.

Many people argue that the show is way past its prime age of content. Classic actors that started on SNL are long gone (Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Adam Sandler, Kristin Wiig, etc.), quoted sketches and notable characters have become less apparent, and the overall quality and “wholesomeness” of the show is wavering. However, this is not a “how bad Kasey thinks SNL has gotten” article. The structure and flexibility of the show increases its salvageability regardless of its current state, and you better believe that keeps me going. SNL’s versatile cast and the virtually endless comedic and creative liberties at their disposal leave plenty of room for adjustments and improvement.  

SNL sketches are often hit or miss, depending on the amount of rehearsal and writing time and the host of the episode. It’s often very apparent when the sketches have been written to accommodate the guest host rather than in collaboration with both the guest and writers’ input. Former writer for the show and absolute legend John Mulaney has hosted three times since leaving, and the quality of sketches and overall vibe of the show dramatically increases during those episodes. I’m definitely biased because I LOVE John and would watch him talk about anything for 90 minutes, good or bad. But the general correlation between quality and host collaboration is a trend that is evident in many instances: Seth Meyers, Scarlett Johanssen, Bill Hader, etc. SNL’s brilliance varies from episode to episode, but I tune in because I want to be there for the good ones.   

As an entertainment business, SNL has no issue exposing their largely left-wing political opinions. And regardless of your stance, many argue that the show’s political sketches since the 2016 election have been redundant and overly aggressive, with motives of malice and ‘conversion’ rather than comedy. In his comedic analysis of SNL, YouTuber Drew Gooden argued that “comedy with an agenda is not actually comedy. SNL’s more recent political sketches seem to want the audience to agree with them, and I just want to laugh.” Most people have never expected the show to have no bias at all, but in the past SNL tended to play to both sides. Politicians who were playfully mocked in sketches later appeared on the show, and any jabs towards a certain political party were countered with jokes about the other. Just watch any political debate sketch before 2016 and compare it to their more recent ones; there’s an obvious shift. Coverage of the latest debates and political events center around Alec Baldwin’s overused Trump impression (note: some people really like his impersonation – it’s more a matter of personal preference), and the jokes are trimmed with an overall distaste for the president and his administration. 

This isn’t to say that SNL should stop covering politics altogether — some of their debate sketches have the potential to be their best ever, and many already are. But there’s a fine line between antagonization and satire, and the show is clearly struggling to find it. 

Aside from its political controversy and aggression, I am constantly in awe of the turnaround and consistent decency of each episode. The set design, costumes, production quality, etc.– the fact that the whole show is written and produced in a week never fails to pleasantly surprise me. SNL has been around for over 40 years, and people still tune in each week, despite arguments that the show’s best days are behind them. The Weekend Update bits are sometimes more fair minded and almost always good, and once in a while a sketch comes along that is absolute gold. SNL is always going to have episodes and sketches that cross the line for some people, and they won’t perfectly utilize their cast every show. I don’t always agree with the way they portray things or how the show chooses to incorporate their host, but I’m still going to watch on Saturday nights. Maybe it’s because I want to see a good sketch live before I read about it online, or because the mostly well-written comedy under a time crunch is incredibly impressive to me. But usually, it’s because I just want to laugh. 

Kasey Corra ‘22, Co-Assistant Editor in Chief