No disrespect to the church lady or the Spartan cheerleaders, but Saturday Night Live hasn't been funny since Eddie Murphy left, which is about when Eddie Murphy stopped being funny, too.
The only thing remotely humorous other than Ashlee Simpson's Maalox moment has been the non-live non-sketches like the Chronicles Of Narnia rap and Natalie Portman's gansta rap, both clearly conceived with YouTube, not the boob tube, in mind.
So it's strange that SNL has inspired not one, but two new shows set backstage at a late-night sketch comedy series. Granted, both The Newsroom and The Larry Sanders Show spun comic gold from such straw. They were smart and funny, and they served as hilariously scathing indictments of their respective subjects, network news and late-night talk shows.
Also working in their favour was an awareness of the narcissism topped with a heaping glob of arrogance required to think anybody would be interested in watching something as inherently vapid as a show about a TV show. Neither series assumed that offering a peek behind the wizard's curtain guaranteed that anyone actually wanted to look.
But there are plenty of reasons to peek into SNL's early years: rising stars, big egos and enough cocaine to powder every nose in New York. Too bad the hubristic creators of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and 30 Rock never watched SNL back then. Or maybe they just preferred the Joe Piscopo years.
While Tina Fey, the smarty-pants behind 30 Rock, is recycling scraps from her days as SNL head writer, Studio 60 smarty-pants Aaron Sorkin hasn't looked any further than his own linty navel for inspiration.
Sorkin's drug history he was once busted at the airport with crack, pot and 'shrooms and subsequent ouster from The West Wing are mirrored in the show's wisecracking main characters, cokehead Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) and Matt Albie (Matthew Perry). Albie used to date Studio 60's resident Jesus freak, and Sorkin once dated devout Christian and West Wing star Kristin Chenoweth.
Sorkin has returned to ratings loser NBC, just as Matt and Danny are lured back to save the show-within-the-show after the producer pulls a Paddy Chayefsky with an on-air rant about how TV is "lobotomizing" America.
Typical of Sorkin, the hour-long drama is as romantic about television as The West Wing was about politics, posing Studio 60 as an idealized workplace where co-workers are family and every decision carries the weight (if not the actual fate) of the free world. Events don't so much unfold as unzip, and dialogue isn't so much spoken as spat: insults are hurled and comebacks launched like surgical strikes, all while smugly delivering Sorkin's anti-TV polemic with the polished precision of a PowerPoint presentation.
But unlike Fey, Sorkin at least has the balls to show us Studio 60's comedy sketches, and they're as funny as anything that currently passes for air-worthy on SNL.
Sitcom 30 Rock is another story. Though its half-hour pilot was shot, scrapped and reshot, sadly, this player is still not ready for prime time.
The premise is simple: Fey's all-female show-within-a-show is saddled with a new male cast member, Tracy Morgan (the unfunniest black SNL alum since Danitra Vance), by a network stooge played by frequent and frequently smug SNL host Alec Baldwin.
The result feels like backstage at a high school variety show featuring the shortbus all-stars (reducing Rachel Dratch's role in 30 Rock's makeover was just stupid), a set-up that wouldn't merit a four-minute sketch on SNL.
Fey was the funniest woman to anchor Weekend Update since that ignorant slut Jane Curtin, and in Sorkin-like fashion she was hailed as SNL's saviour when she became the show's first female head writer. But Fey rarely figured in any of the sketches, and reading fake news off a teleprompter does not a comic actor make (see Jon Stewart in Death To Smoochy).
Yet she writes and stars in the not-so-surpisingly sketchless and lethally dull 30 Rock, so maybe it was Fey's Lisa Loeb eyeglasses we were attracted to all along.
What to watch this week
Friday, October 13
Jozi-H The premiere of a compelling new Canuck hospital drama set in Johannesberg. 9 pm on CBC
I Pity the Fool Mr. T gets all Dr. Phil on people's asses. 8 pm on Star!
Wednesday, October 18
Six Degrees Soapy dramatics made less sudsy by Campbell Scott and Hope Davis. Sadly, no Kevin Bacon. 9 pm on Global,Thursdays at 10 pm on ABC