Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: a tiny SNL moment only eagle-eyed viewers would remember.
No one would agree that the moment I’ve chosen to highlight from this year’s unusually high-profile run of Saturday Night Live episodes is the most iconic, or the most influential. It’s certainly not the funniest, the sharpest or the wittiest. It’s not even a sketch, or a pre-ordained bit. It’s a slip-up.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Larry David butchered Ariana Grande’s name in that clip. That would imply that he touched it at all. No, Larry David gingerly gestured his knife towards that slab of meat, took a brief and halfhearted stab, then tossed his knife aside and walked away with a shrug.
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.
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.