Donald Trump’s “SNL” Episode Highlights the Show’s Recent Downfall

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.)

Late Night

“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”: Continuing the War on Bullshit

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“The Daily Show” is back, and for the first time since December 1998, someone other than Jon Stewart is the permanent host. There has been much discussion of how new host Trevor Noah will fare in regards to filling the shoes of a modern-day broadcasting legend. Tonight, we got our first taste of “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”.

The most immediately noticeable differences are the aesthetics; the show now sports a remodeled set as well as a very sleek new graphics package, And then of course there’s the other massive change, Trevor Noah sitting behind the host desk rather than Stewart.

Aside from that, however, it’s pretty much business as usual. The show doesn’t miss a beat, jumping right back into its usual format. With all the talk of how different the show may be under Noah’s leadership, it’s interesting that at least initially the show seems intent on playing it safe, likely planning on easing us into any future changes. Even the Moment of Zen is still there!

Noah, for his part, looks fairly comfortable in the host position. He handled a few instances of jokes tanking with the audience well, and gave off the confidence of someone who has been doing this for longer than just one night. However, he does have one immediately obvious problem area, and that’s interviewing. The Kevin Hart interview was painfully awkward, from the stumbling, nonsensical questions to the confused reaction to Hart’s welcoming gift. This is something that can be fixed with experience, luckily, and it didn’t derail the night too badly. It will be interesting to watch his interviewing skills evolve.

Overall, Noah’s “Daily Show” debut went as well as anyone could have hoped. It’s clear that the show plans to play things safe, at least initially, by easing us into whatever changes may lie ahead. In the meantime, it’s just nice to know that the show will continue to fight the War on Bullshit.

Late Night

Colbert Bits Evoking Memories of Late-Night Past

As I watched The Late Show‘s second episode last night, I was most impressed by how quickly the show got comfortable. Specifically, they introduced what seems poised to be a recurring bit, “The Hat Has Spoken”.

The bit’s construction is simple: a big fuzzy dictator hat is lowered from the ceiling, descending onto Stephen and allowing him to make decrees that shall be considered law. Colbert sternly outlines his list of demands, including gems such as “From this day forward, no one is required to say goodbye to every single acquaintance before leaving a party” (this one drew the first big applause of the evening). The bit is certainly random and absurd, which is an encouraging development. Once the audience understood the conceit, they seemed to jump on board instantly, and it was definitely a success.

The bit stuck out to me further due to what it reminded me of. Fans of Late Night with Conan O’Brien will remember his recurring bit, “In the Year 3000”. Colbert’s “The Hat Has Spoken” bares many resemblances to Conan’s “3000” bit, right down to the “object being lowered from the ceiling” aspect of it. It’s quite possible that the Colbert bit was, in fact, written by longtime Conan writer Brian Stack.

It’s nice to see Colbert already experimenting with bringing back the exciting absurdity of the days of Late Night. Already, it’s clear that the show is aiming for something between Conan and Fallon as far as tone is concerned. They’re combining the wackiness and absurdity of Conan with the jovial and inviting nature of Fallon’s Tonight Show. The results, so far, have been worth tuning in for.

Here’s a clip of the Colbert bit:

Late Night

Stephen Belongs Here: Recap/Review of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Debut

The highly anticipated debut of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert just wrapped up. After all the anticipation and curiosity as to what Colbert would bring to the network late night landscape, the moment was finally here. Here is a recap of the night, along with my thoughts on how it went.

Cold Open/Monologue

The cold open featured Colbert singing the national anthem in various locations. Eventually it concludes on a baseball field, with an umpire (Jon Stewart, of course) encouraging us to “Play ball!”

We then cut to Stephen emerging to the crowd, who greeted him with the usual chants of “Stephen!” (Poor James Corden, there was never a chance they wouldn’t run late tonight) Stephen opens with “Hello nation!”, a nice little shoutout to the Report days. Jean Baptiste and Stay Human sound great, and bring a softer jazzy counterpart to the legendary Roots crew on NBC. Colbert has no sidekick, a wise decision given his own stage presence.

The set looks terrific, both traditional and modern. Colbert delivers a solid monologue, then cuts to the new theme song for the show, a nice friendly tune that fits well with Stay Human’s style.

To the desk!

Stephen instructs his director (Jimmy, a name diehard Colbert Report viewers will recognize) to get a better look at his new desk. It’s very sleek, and obviously not nearly as ostentatious or “C”-shaped as his previous desk. He shows off the rest of the set, up to the stained glass dome at the top now adorned with Stephen’s face. We can tell right off the bat that the real Stephen is every bit as good as the character, and that really the two aren’t so different at all when you strip out the politics angle. Colbert then closes with a bizarre ad placement sequence about selling his soul to the devil, brought to you by Sabre.

We return from commercial to discuss the election, and of course Stephen can’t resist jumping right on board the Trump bandwagon. Stephen’s jokes on Trump are great and prove that he’ll still delve into political territory, albeit with a different angle.

Interview #1: Clooney

George Clooney comes out for what ends up being quite a fun first interview. Gone are the days of Stephen running around hyping up the audience about himself when an interviewee appears — when the crowd begins chanting again, Colbert insists, “He’s the guest, not me!” Colbert and Clooney share some laughs over the fact that they don’t really know each other, but of course celebrity power has brought them together tonight. They close with a joking trailer for Clooney’s fake movie “Decision Strike”, which you know you totally would watch.

Interview #2: Jeb Bush

This one was less fun. Jeb Bush comes out, and the energy is rather awkward. Jeb seems friendly enough, but it’s clear he’s not comfortable. It doesn’t help that Stephen is not about to go lightly just because it’s his first show; he plainly states to Bush that he will not vote for him at all. Stephen takes a no-nonsense approach to the interview as a whole. He cuts to his family in the audience, and then uses this as a lead-in to ask Jeb about his brother. (Jeb, for his part, kind of steps around answering the question)

Music Finale

To close out the show, Jean Baptiste and Stay Human perform “Everyday People” with several musical guests, none of whom I initially was able to recognize. Nonetheless, it was a nice ending to the night.

Summary and final thoughts

It’s clear that Stephen belongs here. The show had its rough patches that figure to be worked out over the coming weeks, but Stephen just seems like a natural on network television. The tone of the show is that of a less political, less egotistical Colbert Report, bringing over the best elements from that era while creating a unique new voice for late night television. Colbert figures to challenge Fallon’s current late-night monopoly, assuming viewers react as positively as I think they will. It will be fun to watch the show develop over the next month or so, but it seems as though Colbert hasn’t lost a step in switching over to CBS.

A few stray observations

  • The graphics as they cut to commercial could definitely be improved. Kinda gives off a morning show vibe.
  • Stephen offered a nice tribute to his predecessor, David Letterman, without whom this show wouldn’t even exist.
  • Looks like Jon Stewart is on board as a co-executive producer, via the credits.
  • Maybe it was the lighting, but Clooney looked more orange than Trump.
Late Night

What’s Conan up to these days?

The year is 2010. Fresh off of a debacle that resulted in his public departure from his dream job at The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien is suddenly on top of the pop culture world. He departs upon a multi-city tour during a forced television hiatus, and follows it up by signing on to take the 11:00 spot at TBS, then on a surge thanks to its arsenal of popular sitcom reruns. The hype is building, Conan is about to hit the airwaves.

And then, suddenly, nothing. Conan opened to good (if somewhat lukewarm) reviews, but never really did much to build off of all that hype. The show, as well as its funnyman host, seemed to slip into the background.

Now, in 2015, Conan (and Conan) seems like an afterthought in the late-night landscape. The show is still going, but as a shell of what Late Night once was. Once considered innovators in the genre, O’Brien’s team was the only major late night show left out of the Emmy nominations for that category.

Of course, it doesn’t help that that team has thinned out vastly over the years. Once home to talents like Louis C.K. and Robert Smigel, the staff now is composed of much younger and less prominent names. To add insult to injury, the show was recently served with a lawsuit over allegations of stolen monologue jokes.

All this aside, though, it just doesn’t feel the same. O’Brien, who was always known for his zany antics and sophomoric nature, looks beleaguered. This is a man who had his dream stolen from him, and as a result has lost his passion. The monologues are weak, the recurring bits either fall flat or take too long, and the guests are B-listers at best. Conan in his prime was the king of late night, the Letterman for those of us who knew only the later, more complacent Dave. It’s a shame that things worked out the way they did.

Late Night