Since the show first aired in October 1975, “Saturday Night Live” has been an American cultural touchstone. The sketch comedy show, better known as SNL, has enjoyed significant popularity over the years with its brand of political commentary and original characters. But this isn’t the case anymore. As the show plugs away in its 48th season, SNL has lost its relevance and the creativity that has come to define the show and is entering a decline.
Part of what has made SNL so great and successful over the show’s history is its original characters. For years, the show has been defined by the antics of the Church Lady, The Blues Brothers, Wayne and Garth of “Wayne’s World” and Opera Man. All of these characters were what made the show special and each became iconic in their own right. But today’s SNL completely lacks iconic original characters like these. Sure, the ones listed above set a high standard, but the recurring characters of today’s SNL don’t even come close to these standards. Modern characters like Pete Davidson’s “Chad” may elicit a chuckle out of viewers but don’t provide any lasting cultural impact. Characters like this lack any substance and are doomed to the realm of mediocrity.
With the lack of engaging original characters, the show has increasingly turned to commentary on American politics. This was especially evident during the Trump presidency, where nearly every episode had a sketch spoofing the two-time SNL host and other American politicians and political events. And for a while, it seemed to revive the show with great sketches, including some brilliant ones about the Trump-Stormy Daniels scandal, the 2019 Virginia political crisis and anything featuring Larry David’s amazing impression of his distant cousin Bernie Sanders.
But since Trump left office in January 2021, the number of political sketches appear to have decreased significantly. SNL hasn’t been very discreet about its liberal lean – the show basically endorsed Joe Biden before the 2020 election. But for a show that has mocked politicians from both sides during its history, it’s clear that the show has joked about Biden significantly less than they mocked Trump. Sure, Trump’s administration produced more joke-worthy moments than Biden’s has, but this still doesn’t justify the lack of political content from SNL over the past two years.
To fill this void, SNL has turned to American pop culture. However, since the show lacks any good original characters, it simply regurgitates what’s popular – or what the writers think is popular – without adding meaningful commentary or anything remotely creative. What’s more is that many of their attempts to appeal to younger viewers have fallen flat, coming off as cringeworthy and out of touch — see the bizarre Season 46 episode hosted by Elon Musk for examples, if you’re brave enough.
What makes things even harder for SNL in its attempts to stay creative and relevant is the mass exodus of cast members that occurred this year. After the end of the show’s 47th season in May, a staggering eight cast members left the show. Some of the show’s most important and notable members departed, including Aidy Bryant, the aforementioned Davidson and impressionist extraordinaire Kate McKinnon. While the current cast features some promising young talent in actors like Chloe Fineman and James Austin Johnson, the departing members have left a massive hole that may take years for the show to pull itself out of.
Despite the overall decline of the show, there is one segment that’s been consistently hilarious: “Weekend Update.” This news show spoof hosted by the funny and charismatic duo Colin Jost and Michael Che has arguably been the highlight of the show over the past few years and has been consistently funny. They’re the only portion of the show that regularly offers sharp, pointed and funny commentary on political issues anymore.
If SNL wants to regain its former glory, they’re going to have to return to what made the show great: Funny original characters and political commentary on all sides of the aisle. If they can do that, then the show may have a chance to be relevant once more.