“Saturday Night Live” 41: Space Pants, Alien Encounters and Other Highlights (and Lowlights)

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Assigning a value judgment like “good” or “great” or “best ever” or “worst in five years” to a season of Saturday Night Live is inevitably a fool’s errand. Each season is best understood through the lens of key sketches, breakout moments and overall trends. Below, I’ve listed a few of each from this post-anniversary season of America’s most astonishingly resilient TV show.

And while you’re in an SNL mood, check out my Indiewire investigation into the show’s record of diversity in its hosting choices.

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Stephen Colbert: Super Bowl Fumble, Sanders Touchdown

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On Sunday night, Stephen Colbert became the first host in the history of late-night TV to do a show immediately after the Super Bowl. That he and his team fumbled the gig should come as little surprise.

The post-Super Bowl slot has been a mixed blessing of late. Ratings for whatever show follows the nation’s most-watched television event of each year inevitably spike on that Sunday night, but the bump for subsequent episodes is far less substantial, even non-existent. Creatively speaking, most Super Bowl episodes are burdened with such high expectations from audiences and network executives that they’re more concerned with being big and loud than being good. By the end of an exhausting Super Bowl game and halftime show, the last thing most people want to do is keep their brain turned on for one to two more hours of programming, even if they keep their televisions on in an act of sheer inertia.

On top of all those built-in obstacles, Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show is uniquely unsuited to the task of following up the most expensive, expansive spectacle in American pop culture. Continue reading

The M&M Report: “Room,” Grantland and Devin Doesn’t Like Things (!)

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On this episode of The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I review the claustrophobia-inducing drama Room, which stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as a mother and child held captive in a garden shed for more than five years. This movie freaked us out, but we recommend it.

Then we paid tribute to one of our favorite web sites: Grantland, which ESPN abruptly shuttered a couple weeks ago.

And finally, Devin explains why he doesn’t want to hear one more word about the 2016 election. (This episode was recorded on Sunday, before Tuesday’s GOP debate.)

Room – 0:25
Grantland ends – 20:56
Devin Doesn’t Like Things: 2016 Election – 36:05

Peruse the M&M Report category page for previous episodes of the podcast. Thanks for listening!

“SNL”: Post-Trump, Lots of Grump

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This past week was the worst one in a while for passionate Saturday Night Live defenders like me. In the run-up to this week’s episode, hosted by Donald Trump featuring musical guest Sia, a fervent crowd of SNL dissidents sprung up, as if from hiding, to diminish the cultural importance and creative vitality of a show they either haven’t watched in years or continue to watch while actively rooting against it. (Here are just two of many examples, from critics I otherwise respect: Buzzfeed’s Kate Aurthur and Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson.)

The argument that SNL has never been funny, I contend, is a product of unreasonable expectations. The show doesn’t proclaim to be consistent or even reliable. The live format inherently generates up and down weeks, high and low moments, strong and weak sketches. What makes SNL impressive is the frequency with which it succeeds at being funny despite the difficult production restrictions baked into it — tight schedule, collaborative workflow, competing motivations, high-pressure environment, no do-overs.

But every once in a while, I have to doff my cap to people who have written SNL off, and admit that for all of its highs, SNL is also capable of great lows. Last night’s episode represents the show’s nadir in the last five years, if not longer. And it’s on me, and anyone who watched, for expecting anything different.

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The M&M Report: “Saturday Night Live” Season 41

Tracy

On this episode of The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I looked back at the first three episodes of the new season of Saturday Night Live, remarking on the highs of Tracy Morgan’s triumphant return and the lows of Miley Cyrus’s…less triumphant return. Then we took previewed this week’s new episode with a discussion of whether it’s ethical, or advisable, to let Donald Trump host.

Since we recorded, the groundswell of groups urging NBC to cancel Trump’s stint has intensified. The network hasn’t backed down. Meanwhile, the customary promos featuring Trump and cast member Cecily Strong have generated controversy of their own.

Peruse the M&M Report category page for previous episodes of the podcast. Thanks for listening!

“Saturday Night Live” Season 41 Premiere: High on Hillary

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Here are six takeaways from last night’s season 41 premiere of Saturday Night Live.

This Saturday Night Live premiere was never going to be a classic.

Season premieres of Saturday Night Live often struggle, mostly because the show doesn’t operate on the schedule that people might assume. The show’s staff had the same number of weeks to write and prepare this week’s sketches as they do any other week: one. Much of what appeared to be sloppiness and laziness can be attributed to the gears on the SNL machine slowly shaking off the rust that accumulated over the summer.

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“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”: Shifting Sands

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As I wrote when The Late Show with Stephen Colbert premiered last Tuesday — was it really such a short time ago? — late-night shows are evolving creatures. To judge them on their first episode is the equivalent of evaluating a new employee on his first day of work. To judge them after two weeks still isn’t entirely fair, but the nine Late Show episodes that have aired so far give a slightly more accurate picture of what the appeals and setbacks of this show are, might be and could become.

The standard caveat with the analysis that follows: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will almost certainly look very different in six months’ time. Many of the people involved with making the show likely already have a sense of its flaws, even if they haven’t come up with practical fixes yet. These opinions are subject to change without warning.

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