'SNL': The Golden Girl ep reminded us of a female-centric golden age

Saturday-Night-Live-SNLImage Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCBetty White’s Saturday Night Live episode was one of the show’s funniest outings all season. But in the hubbub over the 88-year-old’s dynamo hosting job, it’s worth noting that Ex-SNL­ers Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Molly Shannon, and Amy Poehler were also awesome. They didn’t just bring the funny. They smashed funny in our faces until we couldn’t breathe. Their guest appearances also kind of made me think: When did SNL turn into such a boys’ club after years of female domination? As Scott Mendelson at the Huffington Post points out, it’s tough to be a woman on SNL if your name isn’t Kristen Wiig. Featured players Nasim Pedrad, Abby Elliott, and Jenny Slate regularly get pushed to the background of sketches, if they’re even in the sketch at all. And, if you ask me, the utter lack of female voices on the show is reason No. 1 why this season of SNL was a little bit…off.

SNL has always had a troubled history with female performers. In Live From New York, Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s masterful oral history of the show, Laraine Newman complains about having less airtime than the other original cast members. But that seemed to have changed, certainly in the early 2000s, when Poehler and Rudolph were dominating on-screen and Fey was the head writer. It’s not like the show turned into a Sex and the City chickfest – this was also the Golden Age of Horatio Sanz, after all. And it’s not as if every woman on SNL was perfect. But there was a different energy to the show. It felt a bit smarter and a bit more grown-up. It didn’t feel like something written completely by dudes, for dudes, with lots of loud dude humor, plus the occasional girlfriend, wife, or Kristen Wiig thrown in.

Admittedly, the creators seem to have realized the need to bring in more female talent: three of the four featured players are women. But how much opportunity Pedrad, Elliott, and Slate are getting, when the vast majority of female roles on SNL are played by Wiig, who blew up in the past few seasons and is now overexposed to the point of insanity. And the featured women tend to get less airtime than the other featured player, Bobby Moynihan. (Don’t forget, Pedrad and Slate were only hired this season after the firings of Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins.)

Hollywood has always skewed male, especially in the comedy world. And I’m not saying that SNL needs to make reparations to the female gender by staging re-enactments of Virginia Woolf essays and making Sarah McLachlan the new bandleader. But the show would benefit if the female featured players were given more opportunity to show us what they can do. Elliott’s Angelina Jolie impression is so spot-on I can’t even watch the Salt trailer anymore without laughing; I’ll take that over Fred Armisen’s Lawrence Welk sketch any day. And Slate’s Tina Tina Cheneuse isn’t the funniest thing ever, but it’s fricking Caddyshack compared to “Scared Straight,” which is one of those terrible sketches that was barely funny once and now will never die.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Does SNL need to give its women a bit more opportunity? Or should they just fire every woman and let Kristen Wiig represent the female race? Yeeesh, or should they just fire everybody except Kristen Wiig and ramp up their wig budget? Sound off below!

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  • Aimzee

    I DID find Maya Rudolph to be very funny! Yes, they do need to develop more familiar female roles. Some have been duds this season.Maybe something to do with a psychologist answering female problems – or men problems for that matter.

    • lls

      i think one of the biggest problems was getting rid of casey wilson and michaela watkins. those women hilarious. casey was awesome in the cougar den and was getting more and more time and michaela killed me as barbara walters and the bitch please girl. the newbies just don’t match up, which, unfortunately has led WAY TOO MUCH kristen wiig. i used to love her, now i groan every time i see her on screen. also, seth meyers needs a co-anchor to balance his snobbishness. loved him with amy, not so much solo.

  • Angela

    Don’t hate on Scared Straight. I love it.

    • jcpdiesel21

      I also love Scared Straight. It’s the same joke every time, but it’s always funny. It’s the only skit that I like Kenan Thompson in, and the guys who are in the skit every time must have some sort of running bet to see who they can get to break character and laugh.

      • lls

        it’s pretty much the only time kenan is funny when headlining a sketch. “what’s up with that” would be completely unbearable if it weren’t for the hidden gem that is jason sudeikis dancing in the red track suit.

    • mscisluv

      I love the Scared Straight sketches!

  • Joseph T

    yes!!! the best of SNL when I watched was when maya, molly, amy and tina were there to shine.

    • Mike

      Darren, IMHO, you have a pretty low threshold for “awesome” and “funny”. At best, the show was amusing. At times. For consistent funny or awesome, I personally like John Stewart or Colbert – who crank out just as much as SNL does each week, but at much higher quality.

  • MKS

    It’s about time Abby Elliott’s Angelina Jolie impression was given kudos! That was one of the funniest and best impressions I’ve seen in ages, and completely showcase her potential to be side-splittingly hilarious. I was saddened that she didn’t end up having more material to work with after that appearance. SNL needs to give her some respect, along with the other featured players. I mean, it’s not like SNL can depend on Wiig sticking around forever.

  • Anne

    Amen, Darren. Totally agree with everything you said – namely, that SNL has become an obnoxious boys club that has no room for women (other than Wiig). It’s incredibly chauvanistic, frankly. And no, it’s not because women can’t be funny, or because the recent female players aren’t funny. Case in point, I saw Michaela Watkins at a Groundlings sketch comedy show last weekend, and she was hysterical. Her inexplicable firing just proves how chauvanistic this show is. For shame, SNL.

  • Emily

    Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but place a little blame on Kristen Wigg. Watching this week’s show, it’s hard not to notice that not only were all those amazing women on SNL, but they were on at the same time. They supported each other and created sketches together — such as this week’s Delicious Dish with Gasteyer and Shannon. The cast is involved in the creation of sketches — it’s not just the writers, so while I place a large chunk of blame on them, the fact that Wigg (with her great position at SNL) hasn’t helped nurture younger, less experienced performers seems weird. (and this is not just because I could not be more sick of her characters and the random addition of her as the stock female character in every sketch!)

  • DanOregon

    I’ll go a step further – it would be nice to see SNL use more legends as hosts. Tim Conway, Don Rickles, Cloris Leachman, Bob Newhart. It’s sad that the only time you see most of these people is playing grandparents, like Fred Willard on Modern Family. Usually, they’re funnier than anyone on the show.

    • birdgirl

      Dan, I’m behind you on that one! Don Rickles wouold show these kids what’s what.

  • A

    Um, where the frick was Cheri Oteri? Talk about one of the best female castmates of all time!

    • lls

      LOOOOOVE cheri oteri!

  • Kyle

    I always thought Cheri Oteri was really funny. I wish they would have brought her back last weekend.

  • Lizabeth

    The fact that it has become, as you said, “written completely by dudes, for dudes, with lots of loud dude humor,” is why I have such a hard time watching anymore. The sketch the other night about the sisters who were going to the dance and Amy Poehler as the tom-boy was funny (I loved when Amy said “Oh Crabapples!” She’s hilarious!), but, I kept waiting for the skit to go somewhere and all that was going on was Betty White calling her a lesbian. It seemed very junior high humor to me. Great article and I hope that TBTB at SNL take notice.

  • Alex

    Darren, as much as I agree with your initial sentiment, it doesn’t seem like you’re a regular SNL viewer. Kristen Wiig has been in a lot less sketches than last year. The featured women have been getting air time, but it’s difficult to be on camera too often as a featured player. More than anything else, the audience has to warm up to you. There are very few personalities that can come in and immediately have an audience’s empathy and affection immediately. None of the featured women seem to fit that role, so I think they’ve been nicely increasing their positions (except Abby Elliott, who will probably be fired). Also, although I also don’t care for “Scared Straight” too much, you should realize that a lot of people do. From everything I’ve seen and heard, it actually seems to be one of the more popular recurring sketches of the last couple years.

  • Gage

    Wiig has been overexposed and I should think that Wakins woman was funny

  • JayMarsh

    I third the exception of Cheri Oteri! Where was she?! EW, can you please figure out this glaring omission?

    • hannah2

      I have a feeling she wasn’t well liked by others. Tracy Morgan said in his book that she was horrible. And I’ve never seen her used on 30 rock. I think Fey and Co don’t care for her while that whole group this weekend are friends. Besides except Molly shannon I don’t think any of them worked with Oteri (possibly Gasteyer for a season)

      • Jeff

        cheri oteri, molly shannon, and ana gasteyer worked together for several seasons ranging from the mid to late ’90s. oteri left in ’00, while shannon and gasteyer remained.

  • e4ia

    As happy as I was to see Betty White host, it was the return of some of the most talented female SNL alumni that got me the most excited. (I let out scream like a little girl when the NPR sketch started) But, I too, agree that we were missing Cheri Oteri. Her manic, comedic approach to characters has yet to be matched on that show.

  • Miss Classic SNL

    SNL is definitely going through another of their “phases”. After having been on as long as it has, SNL is truly an institution and is starting to show its age. Even last season, the only host to get a “thumbs up” was really Justin Timberlake, and it was because he can act and gave it his all to participate.

    I think there has been a general lack of talent and energy from the regulars on the show since Tina and Amy left. Part of that is just the caliber of talents that they are, and another part is just the staleness that comes from the same people/writers churning out the same old stuff.

    I wish we could get some more Second City folks in the door to inject new life into the show. Problem is, with this being a down time for SNL, the SC folks are not likely to want to do SNL as it may feel like a step down.

    As much as the lack of talented gals (or perhaps good skits to showcase their talents) is a lack of good writing.

    It is almost like we are seeing a sad Studio 60 episode take place each week before our eyes when there is a new show.

    For most of my life, I have been staying up to watch SNL and I can’t believe how far the show has fallen. It is disappointing.

    Just ecompare a clip show of old skits vs. a current show, and you’ll see how much the new eps look like a decrepit building…

    I would love SNL to do some serious in-house cleanup before they start this fall season. Go back and look at classic SNL and In Living Color to see what works. Maybe bring some new eyes to the Latin music acts. How ever you do it, PLEASE change it up!

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