Obsessive Guide to Saturday Night Live Needs You
Whether you love Saturday Night Live or think it sucks (or are one of the many people I spoke to who said "SNL sucks now. I haven't watched it in years"), there are clearly a lot of people who care about it. There's no shortage of cultish adulation on the web — there are blogs and websites and alt-listservs and chat boards dedicated to dissecting every episode, going back to the dreaded 80-81 season (which, interestingly, is the only season absent from video archives on the official NBC site) all the way back to the legendary opening night on October 11, 1975 (when Chevy Chase yelled out the first-ever "Live From New York, It's Saturday Night!"). Groupies and comedy nerds know all about the SNL Transcripts page, which provides a near-ridiculous library of old sketches (searchable via Google in case you can only remember one thing about that Dillon Edwards sketch), and the SNL Archives page can get you exactly what you need if you happen to be looking for impressions of people starting with the letter "Y" (Yassert Arafat, Yoko Ono etc.). YouTube has an ever-growing cache of SNL clips and classic moments (for example, here, here, and here). A Google search for the phrase "more cowbell" yields 1,030,000 results.
John Belushi, sorely, sorely in need of a little help from his friends
Then there are the critics. To save you hours of Googling, I have chosen a few good ones, recappers and reviewers who clearly watch the show with a Kremlinological attention to detail. There are the forums at TV.com and Saturday-Night-Live.com, but my picks are Eric Friesen at Backward Five and Jason Nummer at Whatevs.org. Friesen's recaps are minimalist but thoughtful, with good, wonky analysis folding in other factors (for example the YouTube issue here) and tart observations of what he liked (Al Pacino checking his bank balance scored a hit), hated (racist employee in Colonial Williamsburg: "It passes as comedy") and what it means for the season (Friesen thinks the new slimmed-down cast is a good thing, invigorated by the new blood: "Suck it up, SNL community. And be a little nicer to Seth Myers"). Nummer's (with partner Heather O'Neill, now retired from active duty) are far more comprehensive, with a rating system, sketch-by-sketch analysis, and minute attention to detail (for example: "Don Roy King, the show's new director, also seems more apt to shooting live television in a high definition environment since the camera blocks and angles are much tighter than last year's rather clumsy transition into widescreen"). Nummer told me via email that he agrees with Michaels' decision to pare down the cast: "The recurring thread through my reviews since 2002-2003 was that the veterans were well past their prime and just gobbling air time away from the more energetic newbies. . . . Cast members should take around five years, then call it a day."
Well, perhaps — though that would cut off people like Phil Hartman, who spent eight seasons on SNL coming up with classics like "I've got chunks of you in my stool" (note the contrast with real-SNL and fake Studio 60: Here, Sting plays a sneering Billy Idol in leather and studs; there, Sting plays Renaissance music on a lute). Falling into the trap of linking a few classic SNL moments is too easy, but I'm totally going to do it anyway (a whole lotta time was spent on the internet here in the name of "research") — just by way of scratching the surface it behooves me to mention, in no particular order, the Samurai Deli; the Church Lady; Roseannadanna and Emily Litella; chopping broccoli; The Penis Song; Celebrity Jeopardy (fyi: This Saturday features "The Best of Darrell Hammond" which marks the first time that a sitting cast member gets the best-of treatment); Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor play Word Association; Drunk Girl and Goat Boy (Will Forte: "People compliment me on Goat Boy all the time") ; the Festrunk Brothers (echoes of whom were visible in this weekend's Borat opener); first female solo anchor, Jane Curtain (with what might be best described as gravita-tas)(sorry); "Not Gonna Phone It In Tonight"; the Sweeney Sisters; digital shorts (Lazy Sunday to Laser Cats); Star Wars (if they should bar wars, plus screen tests); Hands on a Hardbody; Two A-Holes; and Always. Be. Cobbling.
This is a non-exhaustive list; please post links to your own favorites in the comments, because there are 32 seasons of SNL to choose from. Apologies in advance for all the work you're not going to get done today.