On February 18th, Maya Rudolph did exactly what other SNL alumni do when they come back: they admit that they miss SNL. “I am so happy to be back here with at SNL with all my friends, my SNL family,” Alumna Maya Rudolph said in her monologue. “It is a dream come true to be hosting.” And it is a dream come true to see Ms. Rudolph back on stage, charming as ever, for every Saturday Night Live fan as well.
Nowadays, Saturday Night Live fans are split between hating and loving the current era of the show. But bringing Maya Rudolph back as host not only reminded viewers how funny she was on the show, but brought together SNL fans to watch a hilarious and fresh fusion of the old and the new.
After (painfully) watching the entire season of Saturday Night thus far, I am not the only one who believes that alumni have come to be the one stop guarantee for hearty laughter for fans.
Pan in on me: Samantha, a loyal Saturday Night Live fan, in front of the TV every Saturday night with her friends. I look forward to laughs as relief from a hard week. Yet every Saturday, I sit through 90 minutes of SNL to laugh at maybe three sketches, best case scenario.
Yet Maya Rudolph as the recent host has proved that SNL is far from its golden days. Maya was never a breakout start and did not go on to top the celebrity A-list like Tina Fey or Will Ferrell. Maya Rudolph was just another cast member, but a funny cast member who knew how to write and stay true to herself. Yet when she hosted (bringing back fellow alumna Amy Poehler for help), the show’s ratings sky rocketed, landing the highest rating share for viewers 18-49 years old. Maya managed to fuse the old and the new cast for a night of unstoppable and undeniable laughter.
Alumni never fail to draw the viewers back, and, frankly, SNL could take a teaspoon of advice from alumna Rudolph’s recent episode. The cast needs to stop trying to fit a mold and starting trying to reconnect with what made them funny in the first place. In fact, all SNL really needs is a blast from the past, a relief from the pressure put on them, and for the cast to start working together to get back to SNL’s core: genuine laughter and parody, not cheap jokes.
As an audience member in the dress rehearsal after camping for over 30 hours, I was thrilled to see Maya’s refreshing monologue. After telling Jimmy Fallon, who also did a song for his monologue back when he hosted in December, she would not do a song, Maya Rudolph broke into song and dance on stage. She sang of her sexual times as a cast member, a hilarious contrast to Jimmy Fallon’s heartwarming video. Yet Maya brought something Jimmy failed to bring: she brought her originality.
Jimmy Fallon’s episode as host was filled with sketches he revived, starting with the beloved Sully and Denise Cold Open with Rachel Dratch and going on to the mirror sketch. Maya’s episode, however, left behind her famous impressions – Donatella and Whitney Houston, for example – and instead brought to viewers what they wanted most: sketches that would become legend.
And Maya did not disappoint. It’s difficult to pinpoint the best sketches because every single one brought me to tears of laughter and tears of sadness knowing that future episodes would not be nearly as breathtakingly funny.
One of the most memorable sketches – rumored to happen ever since Ms. Rudolph was announced as host – was Maya and fellow Alumna Amy Poehler’s sketch Bronx Beat. As one of the only sketches she revived, this blast from the past was spiked with the new addition of interviewing guests from their fellow “crew” instead of a celebrity. Amy Poehler, of course, helped Maya out as host as their cracked jokes, broke character, and seeped good energy.
Even Justin Timberlake (who I am beginning to think desperately wants to be a part of the SNL cast) joined Andy Samberg in Bronx Beat, playing Amy and Maya’s male counterparts – a way to re-vamp the typical mold for the sketch and tell the audience that what they expect tonight will be re-formed and superseded. As one of the first sketches following Maya’s monologue, Bronx Beat proved long enough for audience members to get their dose of history and energetic enough to set the mood for a night of fresh laughs.
A stark contrast to previous episodes, almost all cast members – including featured members – were in at least two sketches, but likely more. Many, such as Jay, Vanessa and Keenan, who do not always get much time on camera, were given plenty of time to shine. It paid off: Keenan’s What Up with That sketch was hilarious, and his energy was contagious. That was the night that I was convinced I need to stop yelled at the screen that someone should fire Keenan every Saturday night during the intro.
In addition, Jay Pharaoh, who we do not always see lead the pack, was given the opportunity to shine. Jay’s impression of Jay-Z was spot on: hilarious and accurate, a perfect match for Ms. Rudolph’s Beyonce. Her hysterical impression was new material, bringing out the best in multiple cast members as they channeled their inner celebrity, from Brad and Angelina (Taran Killam and Abby Elliot respectively) to Nicki Minaj (Nassim Pedrad) among other characters. The writing was stellar: uproarious but realistic, bringing these good-natured impressions at no cost to the star.
SNL has, since its start, been a show of impressions, so Maya’s ability to bring the show slightly back on track was rewarding for audience members as they not only fed off her energy, but really laughed (not just chuckled) at the cast. In rehearsal, we not only saw Beyonce and the Obamas, but witnessed Oprah, Adele and her boyfriend courtesy of Abby and Taran, and The Voice judges, a hilarious skit which was later cut from the live show.
The original impressions were paired best with original material that not only reminded viewers of the early 2000s and late 90s, but reminded viewers why they love SNL originally. The best sketch of the night brought out dynamic duo Kristen Wiig (who received surprisingly little air time contrary to her usual dominating position) and Maya Rudolph, who were prize presenters for the Super Showcase game show. The two broke character several times both in dress rehearsal and on the live show, pulling a Jimmy Fallon as they struggled to finish lines.
This, however, made it even funnier to watch. Maya and Kristen’s great chemistry and obvious fun on stage loosens the mood for viewers, who laugh along with them. It felt less like a show with high stakes as it usually does and more of the old show it used to be, a show where the cast had fun with their craft.
Perhaps the reason Saturday Night Live has been steadily declining in viewership is because the tension and fight for absolute perfection while in character and on set is too much. We, as viewers, do not watch SNL to get stuck in their tension. The current cast is struggling from a stagnated view of what the show should be, trying to fit into a mold that they will never be able to fully fit into as an ensemble. What Lorne Michaels and each cast member needs to remember is that what makes them funny is their own, independent sense of humor. They cannot default to trying to fit into an invisible mold of what they believe their show should be – it will simply not fly for viewers.
So, SNL, don’t try harder, as some viewers and critics have suggested. You, SNL, need to refocus your efforts and remember that you all are some of the funniest people on television. Maya Rudolph and Jimmy Fallon’s recent episodes as hosts proved to the viewers that the current cast is not only funny, but talented and entertaining.
Now, it’s time for the cast of SNL to start taking on their own personality and becoming their own new era. Stop living in the shadows of the early 90s and late 2000s, current SNL cast, and start making your own golden age! It is time for SNL to grow into their own skin again.
# snl # Saturday Night Live # maya rudolph # maya rudolph maya rudolph hosts SNL # february 18th # 2/18/12 # nbc # snl # tv # television # tv blog # television blog # critic
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