SNL and one-joke sketches

One-joke sketches on Saturday Night Live aren’t inherently awful. “It’s Pat” wasn’t exactly complicated. Tom Hanks did well as “Mr. Short-Term Memory.” Even The Coneheads and the wild-and-crazy Festrunks didn’t exactly match the complexity of a classic Seinfeld or Arrested Development. Nothing wrong with that.

But when a debate sketch, so often SNL‘s bread and butter, resorts to one joke, that’s a missed opportunity.

That’s why SNL‘s otherwise excellent return to the air last weekend had a slow start.

OK. We get it. The media have been fawning over Obama recently. Just as they fawn over every front-runner. Say, Hillary Clinton, three or four months ago.

That’s really not enough for a debate sketch. Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis are left with little to do but caricatures. (I especially feel for Wiig, who gets stuck with a lot of these characters for some reason — the new woman in the cast, Casey Wilson, is already getting better parts. In the evening’s best sketch, a parody of birth-control pill ads, Wiig is seen making out with a dog.)

The classic SNL debates have layers of jokes on all the candidates. Dana Carvey’s memorable Bush vs. Jon Lovitz’s pained Dukakis. Carvey’s Bush vs. Carvey’s Perot vs. Phil Hartman’s Clinton … a trifecta of brilliant characterizations. Then the best of them all — Darrell Hammond’s overbearing Gore vs. Will Ferrell’s borderline illiterate Bush, which was heavy on Gore but still introduced “strategery” into our vernacular.

The whole racial question over Fred Armisen playing Obama is overblown — both men have family trees that look like Benetton ads. Maya Rudolph had no problem playing characters of any ethnicity. Neither should Armisen.

The blame here is on the folks who were on strike all this time — the writers. Come on, folks. These people are funnier than that.

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