I’m overjoyed that the writers’ strike is over, but I’d be perfectly happy if Saturday Night Live would stay dark until mid-November. For the first time since the 2000 election, I feel like they’re influencing the already-debased political discourse in this country. And they’re doing it in bad faith.
This is not an anti-Tina Fey screed. Though I am 100-percent behind Barack Obama (i.e. until someone unearths photos of him kicking newborn infants through the uprights at Soldier Field – at which point I pledge the max donation), only a humorless partisan could fail to appreciate Fey’s “Bitch is the new Black” Hillary endorsement that closed the “Weekend Update” two weeks ago. With the country (and the media) leaning heavily toward Obama, it took some chutzpah to come out and throw down for Clinton in such a confrontational manner. Fey surely pissed off lots of people with her rant (to be honest, I was a tad peeved), but that’s what great political comedy is supposed to do. And that’s why Fey is one of the most vital comedy minds working today.
If only SNL had an Obama backer with an equally ballsy bit for next week’s episode. If only they had anyone other than Jim Downey writing the show’s opening debate sketch.
Whereas I could only admire Fey’s defiance, the Downey-penned parody of the banal Cleveland, Ohio debate was a predictably skewed bust. Moderated by the Obama-fawning duo of Brian Williams and Tim Russert, the skit painted Hillary as a nervous, besieged victim while Obama fielded softball questions by droning empty-headed platitudes. Not only did he come off as a rank amateur; he appeared to be an imbecile. Hillary, on the other hand, was the jittery voice of reason with her stunned, “Mind if I break up the blow-job?” reactions.
And then the real Hillary showed up.
The timing couldn’t have been any better for the Clinton campaign, but fair is fair; Obama appeared on SNL back in early November, so Senator Clinton was due a cameo. But, c’mon, the weekend before the most pivotal primaries since Super Tuesday? You couldn’t work her in for the Tina Fey show? With SNL‘s Hillary (Amy Poehler) standing awestruck next to the genuine article, the appearance amounted to a secondary endorsement. More than that, it was indictment of the allegedly imbalanced coverage of the Democratic primary process, and it all but forced the major news outlets (which always air the highlights of the SNL‘s political skits) to hammer Obama for the next couple of news cycles.
When John McCain trounces Hillary Clinton in this fall’s presidential contest, the Republican National Committee better make sure Jim Downey and Lorne Michaels get front row seats at the inauguration. After all, it was Michaels, a McCain donor, who implored Downey to follow Fey’s news-grabbing lead; and it was Downey, a longtime Republican, who delivered the potential coup de grace to the upstart junior Senator from Illinois. And they did it to do their part to ensure that McCain would face Clinton, against whom he fares much better in early polling (and from whom he’ll be able to snag a hefty number of independent or undecided voters).
Downey’s wreaked havoc with American politics before; as former SNL writer Adam McKay notes in this Huffington Post blog entry (blog more, man!), Downey was responsible for speciously writing Gore as an idiot to offset the unquestionable buffoonery of George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign. As a Daily Show convert around that time, I wasn’t watching a whole lot of SNL, but I do recall the “lock-box” debate sketch, and I remember finding it unusually partisan (as well as expectedly lame). By this point, I knew that Downey was the head political writer on SNL, but I still sympathized with him; it hardly seemed fair that the Democrats’ guy was much more polished and, well, educated. I suppose he could’ve played Bush as the common man versus an erudite prick, but Gore’s southern accent softened his intellectual arrogance. If Downey were going to be a help to his party (and isn’t that the goal of every satirist?), he had to create a completely fictional Gore.
And now he’s making mischief again. As one of the alpha dogs of Studio 8H, Downey’s always going to get his views wedged into the major political sketches. But who’s there to challenge him? Even if Fey were still around, she’d be in cahoots until the Democrats settled their interminable primary scuffle. How about an African-American voice? I guess Maya Rudolph could throw some elbows, but her boyfriend, Paul Thomas Anderson, is apparently cozy with Downey (he appeared in There Will Be Blood). Kenan Thompson? All depends on whether he can work in a Bill Cosby impersonation.
I don’t mean to reduce this to a question of race (especially since I’m hopelessly caucasian), but it’s telling that SNL has Fred Armisen (who is of Venezuelan, Japanese and German descent) playing Obama in… heavily shaded makeup. This is where the show could use a Chris Rock disciple instead of a guy who made his name doing family-safe schtick on Nickelodeon. Though they don’t get airtime on the deplorable Def Comedy Jam (where I recently saw host D.L. Hughley ripping off Patton Oswalt’s KFC Bowls bit), there must be comedians of color who aren’t content to settle for twenty-minutes of “Women do this, Men do this” material. Why can’t Lorne offer up a featured spot to someone with an actual point-of-view?
The answer, of course, is that he’d rather stick with talent that’s easily bullied and/or devoid of perspective; that way, he can ram through his establishment ideology during pivotal election years. I just wish the nation’s media were smart enough to see the show’s political “satire” for what it really is: campaigning.