This past week the internet was buzzing with the 10-minute performance given by Taylor Swift in support of her newest re-release. Each season of “SNL” delivers at least one such social-media-buzzworthy story. Truth be told, that is the ultimate measure of a TV show these days: How often can it stay relevant on social media?
If I recall correctly, last season’s big moment was Elon Musk and his awkward yet engaging performance (a new one for a non-actor). The year before it was probably Kanye West doing something strange or the ongoing story of Pete Davidson (maybe not for his on-air story as much as his off-air dating life).
Over the years, there are performances to remember and skits that delivered pop culture references which still survive to this day. Each season brings with it a cast of writers-turned-actors and comedians-turned-actors who rise from anonymity and become household names: names like Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and more. Many have come to host time and time again. People like Steve Martin and Tom Hanks have also hosted multiple times, as many as 17 episodes over the years (a record held by Alec Baldwin).
Musical guests from across most genres have played for the audience that makes up any given Saturday night, and some of them have been banned from ever reappearing on the program again.
Of course, almost every new season of “SNL” begins with the monologue that maybe the show has finally “jumped the shark” and the new cast won’t be able to live up to years past. Sometimes the season is a slow burn, trying to create that comedic resonance which keeps the show on the air. Sometimes it hits the ball out of the park in the first episode or two.
The viability of the show tends to depend heavily on the news of the day and the real-life characters that are pulled from the headlines. Impressions of political figures who are drunk with power, or in some cases simply drunk in public, permeate the landscape of “SNL”, providing some of its most memorable moments. Other times sports, celebrities and simple daily occurrences can be turned into something to make us laugh. The writers are the central strength of “SNL”, with their ability to shrug off past misses and “be a goldfish” with a short memory for what the audience feedback was the previous week (thank you, Jason Sudeikis of “Ted Lasso” fame for that reference -- and thank you, “SNL”, for giving us Jason Sudeikis).
I’d say there are two reasons for the show’s longevity. First, every week is a chance for a fresh start, week, with new context to pull from and new opportunities for satire. The folks that work on the show are able to hone their craft over and over with those new nuggets of information.
Secondly, and probably most important, the fact is that we all need to laugh, and we all need to take ourselves a little less seriously “SNL” exists to poke fun at ourselves, and we need that more than ever these days. Sometimes they miss the mark, and sometimes the later sketches are a little weak, but the show’s constant reinvention is to be applauded.
Cheers to another 40+ years of “SNL."