(3 of 3)
SNL's creator, Michaels, remains confident that he will win any present or future ratings fight. "The more people who will be watching late-night TV, the more people who will be watching us," he says, sounding like an abandoned NBC ad campaign. He professes to be unconcerned that the buzz surrounding his show is at the moment dangerously quiet. "We will prevail. As more and more people connect to the new cast members, more and more people will be talking about us." Or, as ostensibly patient NBC entertainment chief Don Ohlmeyer reminded reporters in a speech last month, the show "is a work in progress."
So far, the cast has shown itself to be quite able. There are a number of talented impressionists in the group, including Tim Meadows, who can juggle O.J. and Michael Jackson with a skilled facility. Another high point of the season has been Molly Shannon's disturbed Catholic schoolgirl. As she jumps unprovoked into midair and falls into people and folding chairs, Shannon has proved to be a first-rate physical comic.
What still plagues SNL this year is a penchant for sketches that don't seem to have any point. The show's new, unexplainable fixation is with characters who yell at faceless crowds. One has Cheri Oteri in a housecoat screaming at children from her front porch. The skit is too redolent of a scene from Vicki Lawrence's Mama's Family to watch comfortably in its entirety.
Its genuinely unbearable past seasons have worked to SNL's advantage--as well as Mad TV's--in the sense that our expectations for sketch comedy have diminished. "People are happy if they get one or two funny skits in a whole show," notes Fox's Corrao. Disconcerting words from a TV executive. But at the same time, it should be understood that sketch comedy has become increasingly difficult to produce. What does it mean to produce alternative comedy when mainstream pop culture has become so self-mocking? When Miller Lite commercials do smart send-ups of kung fu movies, when sitcoms like Ned and Stacey make jokes about sitcoms like Mr. Belvedere, when From Dusk Till Dawn wears its crumminess as a badge of honor? Moreover, there is the difficulty of producing intelligent satire in a world in which reality at times resembles a series of lame celebrity-sketch conceits--Sonny Bono in Congress, O.J. Simpson peddling testimony on video that he never gave in court. Lorne Michaels had better hope his viewers never discover CNN.
--With reporting by Jeffrey Ressner/LosAngeles and William Tynan/New York