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Unwatchable `Saturday Night Live' is unfunny, tasteless and boring

The fact that Roma Downey actually agreed to host "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend raises one inescapable question - had she ever actually seen the show before she signed on?

Maybe living and working here in Utah, where NBC affiliate KSL-Ch. 5 chooses not to carry "SNL," has prevented the "Touched by an Angel" star from being exposed to this completely cruddy program. At least that's an excuse Downey might want to use to explain how she ended up on the show.It isn't just that "Saturday Night Live" has such a tendency toward lowest-common-denominator vulgarity - which, of course, it does. Much of the language and subject matter can't possibly be quoted in a family newspaper.

But what makes "SNL" completely unwatchable is the fact that it's completely unfunny. Sitting through this show for 90 minutes could easily be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The cast, writers and producers always defend themselves against criticism that their show is too vulgar by insinuating that their critics are narrow-minded prudes. But there's one criticism of "SNL" against which they have no defense whatsoever.

The show is boring. Intensely boring.

Pulling down a copy of this past weekend's edition of "SNL" off the satellite demonstrated that point clearly. There wasn't one single moment worth cracking a smile at. And even the studio audience - which is hyped all out of proportion and prompted by "applause" signs - managed only a tepid response to the material.

The show opened with a dull, ponderous bit about "Nightline" covering a Monica Lewinsky's appearance before a joint session of Congress - and talking about how President Clinton and Vernon Jordan had sex with each other before she joined in.

Gee, both crass and unfunny at the same time! What an accomplishment!

And it set the tone for the rest of the program.

It's hard to believe that anybody actually spends time writing this stuff. One sketch was about something called the "I'm Riding My Donkey Political Talk Show." It featured "SNL" regulars playing the show's host as well as CNN's Mary Tillotson and Bernard Shaw and ABC newsman Sam Donaldson. The gimmick was - you guessed it! - they all sat on donkeys as they said their lines. The lines weren't funny and neither was the bit.

It looked like something that a bunch of junior high kids - really dumb junior high kids - thought up.

Other bits were equally horrid - Clinton leaving messages on Lewinsky's answering machine; a crude fool who hosts a call-in show called "The Ladies' Man" - in which he tells us that "nothing says romance more than two naked ladies" having sex with each other; a stupid commercial for Barbie-ized chess for girls; a stupid animated bit about a Chinese speed skater using steroids to win an Olympic gold medal - a bit so awful it defies description; and a parody of Martha Stewart - a parody that had some promise before heading right back into the sewer.

And there was even some outdated drug humor - the sort of jokes NBC supposedly banned from the show years ago.

The truly amazing thing about "Saturday Night Live" is that even after almost 23 seasons on the air no one on this show has ever figured out how to end a sketch. The comedy segments just sort of dribble off to nothingness.

It's as if no one at "SNL" has ever heard of a punch line or a big finish.

As for Downey, her participation included a completely lame opening take-off on "Touched by an Angel"; a pointless bit as a Unitarian minister; an appearance as Russia's Catherine the Great - answering questions from reporters about her alleged "improper sexual relationship" with a horse; as a bride-to-be with an obnoxious cousin; and as a busty dame at a Valentine's dance - so busty she's falling out of her dress.

And this is how low she was willing to go, spouting lines like, "Let's just say if guys was flies I'd be the poop."

It's fully understandable that, as an actress, Downey would want to demonstrate that there's more to her than being an angel. That she wanted to demonstrate her range as a performer.

All she demonstrated on "Saturday Night Live" was her ability to make poor career choices.

(At least we should be grateful that Downey didn't drag us into all of this. "We film our show in Utah, so coming to New York and doing this couldn't be more different," was the "Touched by an Angel" actress' only local reference.)

It's hard to imagine that anyone was impressed when they saw her saying that she'd worked out early problems she had with the "SNL" cast.

"Well, on Monday I b---- slapped Chris Kattan and they pretty much left me alone after that," Downey said.

And it can't do her credibility any good to open the evening by saying, "We've got a great show for you tonight" - a total lie.

The biggest bit of truth all night came from Tracy Morgan, in drag impersonating Della Reese. "These people here are seriously depraved," he said.

Amen.

WHAT A LOSER: Another truly amazing thing about "Saturday Night Live" is that NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer fired Norm MacDonald from his post as anchor of the "Weekend Update" segment and put Colin Quinn in his place.

Now, MacDonald wasn't by any means a master of comedy. He didn't hit home runs every time he went to the plate.

But he at least managed to hit singles and doubles with some consistency.

When Quinn doesn't strike out altogether, he can't get the ball out of the infield. He is, without a doubt, the worst "Weekend Update" anchor in the history of the show - even worse than Charles Rocket.

He's unpersonable. He trips over his lines. He's smug for no apparent reason. He keeps looking off camera in a way that's wildly distracting. The only thing worse than his lame delivery is his bad over-acting.

As bad as Quinn is, what does that make Ohlmeyer for insisting he get the gig?

NO CRITICISM HERE: As regular readers are well aware, I don't always agree with the programming decisions that are made at KSL-Ch. 5.

But not carrying "Saturday Night Live" isn't a decision I would ever dispute. Never have, never will.

If only more NBC affiliates would refuse to carry the show one of two things would happen - either something would be done to make it worth watching or it would go away altogether.

And it would probably be the latter, because - from all appearances - nothing can be done to make "SNL" better.