I Resent Your Politicization of the Issue. Saturday Night Live Is Just Awful in All Respects.
I do believe you're right that the reason the sketch was met with funereal silence was that it was premised on a lie, and an obvious lie, so the audience just wasn't willing to go along with it. As they always say, any satire must be grounded in some truth. I can't just start calling a thin person Fatty-Fat-Fat-Butt and expect people to join in. (Unless I'm doing a sort of meta- thing or something.)
So sure, this was a sketch doomed by politics. Similarly they doomed their election coverage due to politics; they couldn't even find it within themselves to be as honest about Barack Obama's debate performance as Rachel Maddow. I remember reading SNL's defense at the time; media asked them why that sketch was so bad. "There just was anything funny there," they said.
Actually there was quite a bit that was funny; when SNL says they couldn't find anything funny, they mean they were heartbroken by it and so were in no laughing mood.
And sure, because of this, SNL was barely spoken about during an election year. Election years for SNL are like tax season for H&R Block -- it's where they make their rent. Even in a bad season, SNL can usually get some good press by being topical entertainment during election season.
Not this year, though.
But again, politics is just part of the problem, and a small part. Although conservative blogs talk about the political sketches (naturally), 85% of the sketches have nothing to do with politics.
And those sketches are also horrific.
SNL has had a bad vibe going for years, but it's reached fever pitch lately. I will call this vibe High School Senior Talent Show.
In high school, the pops and the soshes (as a John Hughes movie teenager might call them) would put on a Senior Talent Show. They would cutely cavort and reference stuff about themselves. Their big killer jokes at the end featured the popular guys dressing like girls and the popular girls dressing like guys, and it was just hilarious, because, seriously, they're dressed the wrong way! Crazy!
Anyway, fyi, anyone who participated in a High School Senior Talent show: We all hated you. We haven't said anything about it up until now, but we just took a vote and I've been deputized to let you know. The eyes that were on you were burning with hatred. We were angry not that you weren't funny -- many people are not funny -- but that you thought you were so cute and so popular that simply by appearing on stage we'd all love you and you'd become funny.
Saturday Night Live is doing this sort of thing more and more with celebrity walk-ons -- a minor-to-major celebrity walks out, gets a huge Fonzie Whooo!, says something not particularly funny, and then walks off with another huge burst of applause.
Whoopie Goldberg appeared on the last show and got a huge Fonzie Welcome. Whoopie Goldberg? We're really so starved for Whoopie Goldberg that five days a week on The View just isn't enough to satisfy our Whoopie-craving?
We're now giving Fonzie Welcomes to the Former Center Square? If Jm J. Bullock shows up, do we give him the Fonzie Welcome too?
This is a celebrity get? Who was your backup? Dee Snyder's gym socks? This isn't a Cameo Walk-On; this is next season's seventh-runner-up on The Celebrity Apprentice.
But even worse is the High School Senior Talent Follies treatment of the guest hosts. Apparently, the Big Joke that you now do with your male guest host is have him take his shirt off. Channing Tatum took his shirt off! Holy mackerel, that's some comedy.
And now... Adam Levine's taking his shirt off too! Oh my stars and garters, this is comedy.
You know it's comedy because you get the fake "Whoooo!" instead of laughs.
People say Happy Days didn't Jump the Shark when Fonzie Jumped the Shark; it actually jumped the shark long before then, when the Fonzie Whooo-ing started, and the show stopped being about jokes and comedy and simply about fan-service for fan-boys (or, in this case, fan-girls).
Jerry Seinfeld actually fretted his show was becoming Fonzie-ized in this way, with the Whoo!'s for Kramer's entrances, and so cut the Kramer entrances. He didn't want the show being about Whoo's! and Clapper Humor and fan service. He wanted it to actually be about the comedy.
Saturday Night Live's going in the exact opposite direction. Unable to write anything like 48 minutes of comedy every 2-3 weeks (yeah, that's about it), they're aggressively embracing the Whoo!'s, the Fonzie Welcomes, the Senior Talent Show Follies Aren't-I-Adorable mugging by attractive male guests, and all the rest of the non-comedy aspects of your typical mid-50s variety show because they just have so little else.
A lot of comedians look down on material designed not to elicit laughs but meant to elicit something else -- a clap of political approval. Or, in SNL's case, Fonzie Whoo!'s. If you're doing anything other than making people involuntarily laugh, these comedians think, you're not actually doing comedy.
I think that's where SNL is. They've decided their forte isn't comedy anymore, but rather cutesy cameos, cute boys who take their shirts off, and all nature of fan service for tweener girls who'll drop the show like an unfunny habit the moment they get their drivers licenses. And I think they're right, actually.
In other words: Saturday Night Live is now precisely what it used to parody when it debuted in '75 (or '76-- I can never keep that straight). They once skewered the Desperate Jumped-Up Aren't-We-Having-Fun-Now Fakery of the mid-50s variety television shows and the braindead celebration of celebrity for celebrity's sake; it's now their brand.
That said, lightning does occasionally strike. But that's becoming nearly as rare as actual lightning strikes. And besides -- The Lawrence Welk Show was occasionally funny, too. But it wasn't a comedy show, wasn't a top-level comedy show, and certainly wasn't an edgy top-level comedy show. It was a few songs and a few jokes with lots of Fantabulous Celebrities, and it killed time for people who wished to murder the hours and weren't very discriminating about the method of doing so.