Episode 591: Pre-recorded from the Internet, It’s Overthinking It

On the Overthinking It Podcast we tackle Saturday Night Live in the age of YouTube.

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather stay up late to watch some sketches from this season of Saturday Night Live. Just kidding, they stream individual sketches before performing a cold open, a couple segments, and a musical guest.

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5 Comments on “Episode 591: Pre-recorded from the Internet, It’s Overthinking It”

  1. John C Member #

    The “on NBC problem” should also sort of look at NBC’s own identity. NBC is, after all, a former GE property that has been a safe haven for the likes of Matt “she was asking for it” Lauer, Megyn “when did blackface suddenly become racist?” Kelly, the mentioned Jimmy Fallon incidents, interviews with white supremacists but not their victims, and a lot more. If there are lines SNL never seems to cross, it might be because of who pays their bills.
    As for the early Sesame Street, that actually warrants a lot of discussion (though not necessarily here), since it’s less a shift from “gritty” to “safe” than it is “targeted to the working class” to “targeted to the donor-to-PBS class,” who can be less than comfortable being reminded that poor people exist and aren’t having a great time of it. That’s particularly relevant today, now that funding of Sesame Street now most directly comes from HBO (whatever the actual split is, that’s the part that’s most easily seen), implying that the target audience could soon be families with cable and/or broadband Internet access, which is maybe not the best step for something to “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them.” (The DVD sets of old episodes, by the way, are well worth the money. As Matt points out, they’re a lot more mature and even subversive than you’d ever expect.)
    I hit a similar issue with YouTube’s algorithm, by the way, where I rewatched one or two ’70s-era SNL sketch (because I’m that guy, who hasn’t been impressed since I was in elementary school and probably sleep-deprived when watching those sketches; plus, the Killer Bee sketches are delightfully weird) and now the algorithm keeps trying to convince me that I have some imperative duty to watch any number of Alec Baldwin or Adam Sandler sketches, which is…not the best use of their time.
    As for SNL’s relevance itself, I agree with the points made about it being topped in the news satire space, but it’s also worth pointing out how many sitcoms are also built on a long-form version of the older SNL sketch model. It’s hard to imagine “The Good Place” existing without SNL, for example, since it feels like one successful sketch that’s built to run for four years. And yet, it’s also strange that it doesn’t feel like SNL is interested in learning those expanded techniques and still run sketches that are longer than their premise can really manage, making it look like they’re playing catch-up.
    And at that point, I’m just going to hit “submit,” since this is way longer than I expected. Again.


    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      I’d like to explore this idea that The Good Place is like an extended SNL sketch. The basic premise from the pilot–that there’s a dirtbag in heaven who doesn’t belong and there’s a point system, etc.–I could imagine being a standalone sketch. Is there some alternative SNL model–i.e., one without Lorne at the helm–that could build out a serialized narrative with some of the twists and turns + philosophy deep dives that we’ve come to know and love in The Good Place? Maybe, but then that raises the question, would such a show still be SNL?

      SNL is of course not without its running / recurring bits, and they’re at their best when they take wildly unexpected twists. My favorite (recent) example of this is the Totino’s Pizza Rolls trilogy. This interview with the writers includes the 3 videos and their thoughts on how the concept evolved.



      • John C Member #

        The connection I was trying to make with “The Good Place” was mostly in the early vein where they would play a lot with the format. For example, the Bees:
        Spoilers for sketches almost as old as me: In the first, you have Rob Reiner ostensibly in a Dramatic Scene(TM), complaining about it being undermined by a dumb premise, and then John Belushi turning the tables on the scene again. In the second, you have a weird modern Western (with bees) turning into Lorne heading off to fire his alcoholic father and the show falling apart. They had a bunch of appearances, mostly because NBC hated them and that amused Michaels, but you get the point.
        Now, ignore the philosophy on “The Good Place” (which is obviously unfair to them, but not relevant to the structure) and you have a very similar bait-and-switch model.
        The “dirtbag in Heaven” show quickly pulls back to a sitcom writers’ room, the universe trying to clever find ways to torture the quirky protagonists for entertainment (plus, tip-toeing around censors), even when it doesn’t always make any sense. Pull back again, and the show is now about maintaining a series that has been running too long, Michael’s reboots attempting to keep the show “in the second act,” so to speak. Pull back again, and the show could be a metaphor for unionization, the “actors” and “writers” banding together to stymie the producers who want to cancel the series because it offends someone in power. Pull back a few more times in the second and third seasons, and we’re currently deep into the existential angst of trying to build a fair system in an unfair economy, while powerful people would rather continue to benefit from the system as-is and other powerful people don’t really care.
        So, I’m not quite thinking of “The Good Place” as a recurring sketch concept. I’m thinking of it more as one sketch that will have (successfully) run for something like twenty hours when the finale airs early next year. The philosophical (and highly liberal/progressive) angle is certainly not SNL material, but the beats of the jokes and the general concept feel like they have more “Not Ready for Prime Time” DNA in them than anything else.
        I mean, I’m assuming the structure comes from that lineage. After all, while I can think of storytelling traditions where the narrative might briefly step back to show the artifice, SNL seems to be the first to bake those jokes into the story itself, rather than using it as a one-off gag (Monty Python) or as a framing device (Rob Reiner).
        And obviously, other shows take different aspects. Pretty much anything involving Tina Fey is going to sound a lot like SNL, because that’s basically her sense of humor, with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” having a lot of the same aggressively-centrist politics and the same kind of patter to the jokes. Along a different dimension, Rachel Bloom has said that she looked at the “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” music videos as SNL-like sketches within the overall narrative that happened to be songs.


  2. Stokes #

    One of my all-time favorite SNL bits of all time is this one. (Wrather, can you embed the video?)

    Masterpiece performance by Chris Farley, obviously, which is what I remembered from seeing when it initially aired. But man, how perfect is the visual language of this clip!
    • The slow zoom in on his face once he realizes what’s happened, and then the slightly more dramatic zoom back out as his rage mounts.
    • The — pop! — of the chef’s head poking in, and the way that plays with the rhythmic back-and-forth camera motion in the wide shot.
    • The way that the camera traces the physicality of his actions — when he swings at his wife it swings right, when he looms over the guy on the ground it swoops down and to the left, each time he throws a pie it cuts just on the toss.
    • But then as the scene goes further and further out of control, the camera sort of… detaches from the action, zooming and panning almost randomly? Which means that Farley’s actions start stretching out into offscreen space. Ain’t no frame can hold him! Who even knows what he’s doing with those plates?
    • Finally it reaches this maddened plateau where Farley is shouting “as god as my witness” over and over, and the slapstick action is stuck on a loop of the chef whanging him on the head with a skillet over and over, and the camera is doing this super exaggerated zoom in and out, over and over… On a scale of intensity from 1 to 10, all three elements are clocking something like a 35. And they’re not even synchronized, except that when he passes out all three of them drop instantly to zero.

    Anyway, now I’m obsessed. Could they really have done it all live? Or is this the kind of thing where they would have filmed the segment during the week, and played it in front of the studio audience to get the laugh track?


    • stokes #

      (p.s. Wrather, if you do manage to embed the video, can you also fix the part where I said “my all time favorite SNL bits of all time” please? kthx)


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