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ASK MATTHEW

‘SNL’ the same as it ever was

Viewers have been complaining about the show’s decline almost since it premiered in 1975. But it’s always been uneven.

Melissa McCarthy did a memorable impression of former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on "Saturday Night Live."
Melissa McCarthy did a memorable impression of former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on "Saturday Night Live."Will Heath

Q. I liked your piece on the best political impressions on “Saturday Night Live.” Two questions: How could you leave out Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer? And am I right in thinking that “SNL” is worse than ever?

A. Well the first answer is easy. The list was restricted to presidents, vice presidents, and those who’ve run for those offices. So McCarthy’s Spicer was not eligible. Likewise a few other strong impressions, including Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions, Matt Damon’s Brett Kavanaugh, Cecily Strong’s Melania Trump, and Beck Bennett’s Vladimir Putin. McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway remains one of my favorites, political or otherwise, of the past few years.

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The second question, to be honest, even though you seem awfully nice, has gotten a bit tired. People have been saying that “Saturday Night Live” is not what it used to be almost since it premiered in 1975. At this point, some 46 seasons on, the not-what-it-used-to-be concept is just part of its basic identity. In my opinion, the show has always had ups and downs, not only from cast to cast, but from sketch to sketch. Omnibus shows like “SNL” are almost by definition uneven. I rewatched season one not too long ago, and I was surprised at the amount of mediocrity folded into the brilliance of that era.

And our judgments are particularly subjective when it comes to comedy, so that one person’s classic sketch is another person’s sketch encapsulating everything that is wrong with the show. Often I’m shocked at how lame a political sketch is, given the number of writers on the show, and yet it’s a sketch everyone is talking about the next day. John Oliver and his writers also do one show per week, and their work is as consistently sharp as the “SNL” writing is not. One of the few times everyone appeared to feel the same excitement about something on “SNL” was Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin.

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“SNL” is no longer restrained to Saturday nights, since the sketches are all available online after they air on TV. That means the show is more seen than ever, even if it’s worse than ever. Websites publish recaps of each episode because on Sunday and Monday, they create a rush of clicks from those who didn’t stay up late. While baby boomer institutions such as Rolling Stone magazine are in dire straits, “SNL” stays solid and continues to speak to people, including those who love it unconditionally, those for whom hope springs eternal, and those who need to see it just to confirm that is truly worse than ever.

MATTHEW GILBERT


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.