Only because Trump was hosting it, I tuned into Saturday Night Live for the first time in about 20 years. I've only caught it occasionally since then in re-runs on Comedy Central, and snippets of the live broadcast.
Tonight confirmed that the trend continues to this day: ever since the major cast overhaul of the mid-'90s, it's been consistently lame. All that changes is the flavor of crappy tryhard, or not-so-hard, comedy. Super extreme in-your-face characters of the mid-to-late '90s, self-aware awkward types from the 2000s, and now apparently just commentary on pop culture du jour.
That really struck me tonight -- how few characters there were, acting out situations that were based on real life, however absurd. Everything was some kind of pop culture reference.
Then again, maybe it's not so surprising since the peak of SNL coincided with the golden age of the sit-com, during the early-to-mid '90s. The SNL sketches were just that -- a sketch of one scene from an imaginary sit-com, with the situation being more absurd because it only had a few minutes to get laughs, unlike the serial-form sit-com that could stretch the characters out over weeks and years.
Another great sketch comedy show from the late '80s through the mid '90s was Kids in the Hall, also produced by Lorne Michaels, though for gay Canadian audiences. The anarchic take on real-life situations was well suited to the free-wheeling late Boomer actors.
The Gen X actors of The State on MTV did a decent job, too, although you could tell they had to force it a little bit. Early X-ers are a tad more self-aware than late Boomers, and it keeps them from turning off their internal monitor and just getting into the role and running with it. Still, its time was only '93 to '95, before the over-the-top extreeeeme form of self-aware caricatures took over in the second half of the '90s (like that cheerleader group from the Will Ferrell / Cheri Oteri era).
Side note about generations of SNL actors: all 10 of the victims of the "SNL curse" -- dying before age 60 -- were Boomers. Some died in their early 30s in the early '80s, others in their late 50s in the 2010s. The only constant is a cohort effect, namely imprinting on the self-destructive approach to life during the hedonistic Seventies and succumbing sooner or later to a premature death. Although Robin Williams wasn't a cast member, he could have been, and he barely cleared the 60-year mark before killing himself.
There were some Silent Gen actors like Chevy Chase, and he's still doing fine. The early X-ers are well over 40, and aren't about to drop dead. There are some borderline X-er / Millennial actors in their early 30s, and they aren't going to OD any time now like John Belushi did.
Speaking of the current cast, they're pretty old. Most are in their 30s, with a few in their late 20s. During its heyday in the early '90s, the median age must have been at least 5 years younger, most of the hit players being in their mid-to-late 20s. And back in the doldrums when it was just The Eddie Murphy Show, the star was in his early 20s.
The fast-paced, anarchic approach that is required of sketch comedy simply doesn't work so well when the actors are old enough to have school-aged children. Unless they're going for a somewhat higher-brow angle, a la Monty Python, where the actors were still in their late 20s and early 30s rather than further advanced into their 30s (and 40s).
SNL, however, works the opposite angle -- appealing now to juveniles and overgrown children. It was depressing to see how bad it had gotten, but I'm not about to tune in again out of pity. Like The Simpsons, which I also stopped watching after the mid-'90s, SNL needs to be allowed to die already. It stopped being funny or even relevant a long time ago.