The highly-discussed and anticipated Donald Trump episode of “Saturday Night Live” represented a great opportunity for the show to come out swinging and show viewers, both old and new, that the show is still worthwhile.
Instead, it may have made a case for its desperate need of a massive overhaul.
The show approached the Donald Trump episode, on which the man himself appeared no more than 15 minutes in total (likely due to tricky broadcast regulations on political candidates), with seemingly no more creative energy or inspiration than their average episode. And most tellingly for a sketch comedy show, the episode simply wasn’t funny. Even accounting for the limitations Trump’s people likely placed on them, it was just totally bland.
Unfortunately, this has become a trend for SNL of late. Since the departure of mainstays such as Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, the show has struggled mightily to find its next generation of performers. Currently, standout Kate McKinnon is left to carry an assortment of players that are either being underutilized, or simply aren’t that good. Inexplicably, the cast remained the same from last season despite plenty of signs of cracks in the foundation at that time.
And even the best performers can only do so much without talented writing. It’s amazing to watch McKinnon, as Hillary Clinton, somehow make the most cartoonish lines sound convincing. Even poor Tracy Morgan, still recovering from his accident over a year ago, did his best to commit to the writers’ bizarro-world versions of his old sketches during his episode in October. The show seems to recognize the issue with the writing, having relieved (former) head writer Colin Jost of his duties recently. Nonetheless, the Trump episode shows that this move has only led to a further dip in quality.
I would liken SNL to a struggling NBA team. It’s time for them to enter full-on rebuilding mode, but in the increasingly fickle world of broadcast television, even such a storied franchise only has so long to rebuild. It may be time to cut ties with some veterans; Kenan Thompson probably needs to move on to something else by now, and Bobby Moynihan must have some sort of career-ending dirt on Lorne Michaels given his continued presence. It’s time to bring in some new, young talent, both on the cast and in the writing room. These new, young artists must help guide the elderly franchise into the new age, much in the way Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island did a decade ago.
Whatever they do, something’s gotta change. Trump’s episode was the show’s highest rated in 3 years, and if that is the gauge they have for how the show is doing right now, they won’t be likely to keep tuning in.
(Shout out to Larry David as Bernie Sanders though. It’s one of those Fey-as-Palin matches that are too good to pass up.)