Tina Fey and Amy Pohler on 'Saturday Night Live'




Saturday Night Live’s season-opening episode was marred by blatant political partisanship and was surprisingly uninspired overall.

After a good season last year, Saturday Night Live stumbled badly in its season-opening episode this past Saturday night. Host Michael Phelps was very dull, Weekend Update so-so, and nearly all the sketches were tepid at best.

Emblematic of the horror was yet another locker room sketch in which Will Forte plays a swimming coach trying to rev up an uninspired and talentless team. Having Phelps’s character say, "I just don’t get this swimming thing" while walking out on the team was apparently supposed to be funny.

A taped commercial for the Michael Phelps Diet actually was funny, as it involved eating anything you want, and a commercial for a Jar Glove was mildly amusing. The rest of the show fell terribly flat.

Even worse was the return of the show’s old politics. After a couple of years in which the writers took a fresher look at things and attacked pols on both left and right (although usually siding pretty openly with the left), Saturday’s installment took the same tired, partisan-Democrat political stance the show consistently took under former head writer Tina Fey before she left to produce 30 Rock.

Thus the opening political sketch featured Tina Fey (in an excellent impersonation of Gov. Sarah Palin) and Amy Pohler (as an unnacountably gaunt Hillary Clinton) in a joint address to the nation. It’s a funny idea, and the sketch included a couple of good jokes, but it would have been much fresher and spunkier had it trod some new ground.

Instead, the sketch simply presented Palin as inexperienced ("I can see Russia from my house!" is Palin/Fey’s amusing take on Palin’s foreign policy expertise) and not otherwise of any interest, and depicted Clinton as insanely jealous of Palin for undeservedly getting the VP slot the brilliant New York senator had hoped to get from her own party. Haha.

The Weekend Update segment likewise took an openly pro-Democrat approach, and the fact that the show’s producers had invited Sen. Barack Obama to appear in the season premiere episode (he canceled at the last minute without giving any sensible explanation) indicates that their sentiments lie in actually hoping to affect people’s votes. Such open partisanship typically kills both the writers’ creativity and a good part of the audience’s affections.

The show’s political partisanship became extremely boring and off-putting years ago, and the brief rays of sunshine in last season’s less-partisan approach have unfortunately been clouded over completely. Add to that the gross lack of inspiration in the sketch material, and you have an astonishingly dreary season opening show.

I’ll give the show a couple more looks, but prospects do not look good at all.

As it happens, Saturday’s episode was the highest-rated SNL season premiere since 2001. That, however, is probably bad news for NBC and the show’s producers: an unusually large audience saw a very poor show.