The sketch show’s pretaped segments are outshining its live comedy.
The defining quality of Saturday Night Live throughout its staggering 48 years on the air has been its live factor. Where other sketch or variety shows have had the benefit of post-production—namely planning and polish—SNL’s spirit has most often emerged under the pressure of live television. You see it in the little things, like unexpected wardrobe gaffes and uncontrollable laughter; like when the actors in a Disney World–themed “Debbie Downer” sketch labored to deliver their lines in the face of her outrageous observations.
Yet this season, the live sketches are where SNL has struggled most for a spate of reasons: underdeveloped premises, writing that misses the mark, a lack of recurring characters outside of the “Weekend Update” desk, and a relatively new cast still learning to work together. The show’s pretaped segments have shouldered a lot of the heavy lifting, delivering consistently notable comedy and commentary. Last night, SNL’s post-production team—which recently authorized a strike after contract negotiations with its newly formed union stalled—assembled two of the strongest sketches. An announcement from Southwest Airlines sarcastically apologized for canceling more than 16,000 flights during the busy holiday travel season, and a State Farm commercial pursued a delightful twist featuring the fictional company rep Jake from State Farm. These sketches were so fully developed that they highlighted the ways this season’s live sketches have steadily fallen short of that goal line.