by Marc Hirsh
Admittedly, it's been a cliche for years to dump on Saturday Night Live for being agonizingly unfunny. But those frustrated by the lazy writing plaguing the awful current season got fresh cause to gnash their teeth this week.
The first sketch after host Jon Hamm's opening monologue was "1920s Party," which featured Kristen Wiig as a woman whose ego puts her in an awkward position she's incapable of navigating. (You can watch it above.)
"1920s Party" had promise. It's the rare modern SNL sketch that neither involves impressions of famous people, nor is structured as a real or imagined television show. The basic situation is sound, and Hamm does a fine job failing to contain his character's frustrated irritation. There's even a smattering of solid left-field laughs, like Wiig's solidarity with the alley cats lining her balcony when things go south.
But none of that matters.
How a bad post-monologue sketch signals a weak show, after the jump.
The reason the potential merits of "1920s Party" don't save it is that, as written and performed, the focus of the sketch isn't the situation; it's just Wiig saying "Don't make me sing!" She says "Don't make me sing" 13 times, to be exact, with seven additional variations of the phrase scattered throughout. The other guests even say "making you sing" twice. And just to punish anyone who's managed to pay attention through the entire thing, Wiig throws out three instances of "Don't make me dance!" as a final punchline.
Here's a question: How sick are you of reading "Don't make me sing!" by now? Does reading it seem boring and repetitive? Because I've inflicted it on you with only one-fifth the relentlessness of "1920s Party." The sketch lasts five minutes and eight seconds, and the phrase, or something close to it, is spoken 25 times. That's an average of one "Don't make me sing!" every 12 seconds.
That's pretty lazy, and lazy is bad enough. It's bad enough to seemingly build your sketch around the control-V cut-and-paste sequence on your keyboard. (We can allow for the possibility that Wiig herself added a few repetitions of her own in the moment.)
But what makes it worse and more foreboding, since it followed Hamm's invitation for us to sit back and enjoy ourselves, is that it was effectively the leadoff sketch for the show proper. That's a spot usually reserved for the week's strongest material, to make sure that SNL picks up enough momentum to make it through the next 75 minutes or so. Instead, we got a single idea, stretched out and beaten into the ground for five full minutes. It's one thing for the show to be filled up with junk in the second half, but when the post-monologue sketch offers nothing, it leaves the impression that there's no show.
It's also worth noting that the later "Court Stenographer" sketch involved the sentence "I can't find my crackers" no fewer than eight times, and that somebody was clearly so taken with last season's Jon Hamm's John Ham that they decided to dip once more into the well of the host advertising a business venture involving pork products. Because if there's one thing that SNL's good at, especially this season, it's repeating a small number of ideas over and over and praying that we'll laugh.