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'Saturday Night Live Backstage': A two-hour-long excuse to rewatch your favorite sketches

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If you have a fever and the only prescription is more Saturday Night Live, you were in luck last night. After a rerun of  SNL’s best commercial parodies — go, bathroom monkey, go! — NBC aired a new two-hour special that went behind-the-scenes at the venerable sketch show, accompanied by a pre-late night warning that some of the footage might not be ready for prime time. Of course, all the “backstage” bits weren’t anything nearly as juicy as what you’d find on a random page of Live From New York, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’ fantastic oral history of the show. Rather, it was mostly a talking-head-curated nostalgia trip back through a whole bunch of our favorite skits, as well as a couple not-so-favorite ones. (Gilly-y-y, I’m looking at you.)

It was enjoyable enough to watch clips from the show’s heyday, and they got a surprising number of hosts, writers, and cast members to swing by for a soundbite or three, but the special also had the unintended side-effect of reminding us that there was once a time, long ago, when SNL was edgy. The special started off with a segment on New York and how much of the show’s early provocativeness came from being set in a city known for being gritty and dangerous, with gangs of both the violent and finger-snapping varieties. So I guess it’s appropriate that, over the years, as New York became safer and more sanitized, so did SNL. And while the special was essentially a greatest-hits encomium to Lorne Michaels’ life’s work, there were occasional moments that underlined the show’s dwindling tendency to push boundaries, like when Gilbert Gottfried compared the modern incarnation to “a restaurant in a good location.” Or when Tina Fey acknowledged that Norm MacDonald was the last dangerous cast member. Or when they rebroadcast, for the first time in quite a while, the footage of Sinéad O’Connor ripping up the picture of the Pope.  I guess you can’t fully blame a show that is now entering its fifth decade (!) for not being as fresh as it used to be. By this point, it’s far more of an institution than the things it pokes fun at and the new cast members are generally more of the wide-eyed, I’m-just-happy-to-be-here type than those likely to step on anyone’s toes.

Did you guys watch Saturday Night Live Backstage? What did you think? Is complaining that SNL‘s not as edgy/good/interesting as it used to be like complaining that phone calls don’t cost a dime anymore?

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