Ken Tucker wonders, Why is the woefully uneven ''Saturday Night Live'' a habit we're afraid to give up?

By Ken Tucker
Updated October 04, 1999 at 12:00 PM EDT

The ”SNL” premiere bombs

Well, the ”Oz” sketch was certainly a stitch.

The premiere of the 25th season of ”Saturday Night Live” was a weaker-than-usual season opener (a whole summer off, and the best political satire they could come up with was Cheri Oteri as Ross Perot and Darrell Hammond doing a Donald Trump impersonation?) whose only funny moments were provided by its guest host, Jerry Seinfeld. A taped segment spoofing HBO’s brutal prison drama ”Oz,” which featured not a single SNL cast member, was easily the highlight of the show.

As for the rest, well, I have to give credit to Will Ferrell, the most overworked cast member, who was in nearly every sketch, but whose only truly funny moment occurred during a fake TV commercial for home-security systems. Otherwise, everything seemed stale or derivative. ”SNL” even did a sketch about the title change in the sitcom ”Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place.” This probably represents the first time in television history that a comedy show has stolen an idea from TV critics, at least half of whom all around the nation made jokes in their fall-TV previews about where the pizza place was going to go now that it had been dropped. I expect my own royalty check in the mail, and will donate the proceeds to charity.

Coming on the heels of the Sept. 26 prime-time 25th-anniversary special, whose three hours served to underscore just how drastically uneven, not classic, the show has always been, the ”SNL” season opener was in some ways no surprise. Two generations of viewers have now come to switch on ”SNL” out of habit — it’s the ”Ed Sullivan Show” for boomers and Xers — and luckily for producer Lorne Michaels, it’s a habit no one seems inclined to break. Given the dearth of good sketch comedy on TV (and don’t give me that ”Mad TV”-is-good argument; it’s now not just not funny, it’s overrated), even ”SNL”’s rare good one serves as reason enough for its continued existence.

But now that Jon Stewart and Craig Kilborn are doing news roundups that surpass ”SNL” every weeknight, couldn’t the show at least pull a Norm Macdonald and yank the painfully unamusing Colin Quinn out of his chair? The series could use a little surprise and controversy at this point.

Episode Recaps

Saturday Night Live

The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.

  • TV Show
  • 46
  • TV-14
  • Saturdays at 11:30 PM
  • Lorne Michaels
  • NBC
stream service