In the 2000s, Saturday Night Live would find its groove and pretty much never leave it up to the present day. There would be few significant cast shake-ups with a steady in and out every season, with most cast members staying put. I think this era and what follows may have some of the longest tenures ever recorded. one performer, in particular, is pushing for 20 years at the moment. There are some great moments in these episodes, but it continues on with most sketches being fine or terrible. This is also the Fallon era which is…one of my least favorite periods.
The episodes I reviewed were the highest-rated from these seasons on IMDb by the users:
Season 26 – Christopher Walken
Season 27 – Ian McKellan
Season 28 – Christopher Walken
Season 29 – Lindsay Lohan
Season 30 – Will Ferrell
Season 26 saw a cast with zero surprises. The main group was Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Ana Gasteyer, Darrell Hammond, Chris Kattan, Tracy Morgan, Chris Parnell, Horatio Sanz, and Molly Shannon. In addition, featured players were Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, and Jerry Minor. Molly Shannon left the show in February and, at the time, was the longest-running female cast member. I think I have enjoyed her more now that I’m older than I did at the time in college. I especially like her work outside of S.N.L., and she shows a strength for dramatic roles.
It’s another Christopher Walken-hosted episode which usually has some pretty decent bits in them. We get a cold open about Giuliani’s (Hammond) failing marriage due to his affairs. By the following season, they would be fawning over the scumbag due to his default position of being the mayor at the time. I enjoyed the Lovers sketch with Dratch & Ferrell playing a couple who overshare about their sex life. It’s nothing spectacular but ridiculous. There’s a decent T.V. Funhouse bit with the Anatominals, Yogi Bear but with genitals. Finally, we get a job interview sketch with Walken interviewing a centaur (Parnell).
Tina Fey and Fallon host Update, and it’s okay, nothing incredibly amusing. I did enjoy the bit with Chris Kattan doing a terrible re-enactment of a news story. Kevin Nealon guests as a commentator on this episode. We get a sketch with The Continental, which was funnier when I was younger but feels a little more uncomfortable now. I wonder if we’re laughing at the attempted sexual assault or the character’s absurdity, it feels like a weird ill-defined comedy. There’s an entire sketch centered around the phrase “What crawled up his butt?” and I didn’t think it was great. The episode caps off with a quartet of cast members reprising their Christmas song but changing the lyrics to work for summer.
Season 27 brought a few changes. Jerry Minor was gone. Dratch, Fey, and Rudolph all got moved to the main cast. Amy Poehler joined the cast in January. The featured players were Dean Edwards, Seth Meyers, and Jeff Richards. This season allows me to talk about Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell’s solidarity with Chris Parnell. Because of budget cuts, Parnell was not picked up for Season 27. However, Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan both knew Parnell from having been members of the Groundlings in Los Angeles. They went to Lorne and implored him to bring back Parnell, and by March, he was back on the show. Parnell would get the name “Ice Man” because, unlike other cast members (cough Fallon cough), he never cracked up while performing.
I wasn’t sure how good the Ian McKellan episode in Season 27 would be, but it had some pleasant moments. The cold open is Tom Ridge (Hammond), director of homeland security, explaining an absurd new terror warning system. I believe soda companies were putting out classic versions of their signature beverages around this time, so we got a commercial parody of Kotex Classic, maxi pads done with an old-fashioned waistband garter belt thing. It is pretty clever. There’s a Delicious Dish sketch, this time with Rachel Dratch, as Molly Shannon had left. I always liked this one because I thought it perfectly captured the sedate, anesthetic-like tone of public radio. It was clear they were always chasing after the success of the Alec Baldwin/Schweddy Balls episode and never quite got there again. Finally, there’s a bit that feels like something from Mr. Show called Hot Air Balloon Mystery Theater where a murder takes place in of all places…a hot air balloon! The flashback to the murder is pretty funny, and I like the whole concept.
It’s Weekend Update time again, and Fey & Fallon still host. McKellan plays Maggie Smith in a segment, and he does an excellent job. While the voice may not be perfect, the mannerism and body language are spot on. Next, there’s a really horrible segment about Paula Jones participating in celebrity boxing against Tonya Harding. Jeff Richards pops in, doing a perfect Louie Anderson impression. Despite Richards being buddies with Rob Schnieder, he was always so good with impressions. Then there’s a talk show sketch about Turkish people that is odd. It has some funny parts, but overall I did not get it. The final sketch is a commercial parody about a soap opera actor (McKellan) doing a one-man adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and once again, this feels like something Mr. Show would have done better.
In Season 28, Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer are gone with no new primary cast replacements. Instead, the featured cast grows with Edwards, Meyers, and Richards joined by Fred Armisen and Will Forte. The episode I watched was yet another Walken entry. The cold open is a misfire, in my opinion, about the pending war with Iraq and trying to both call the war wrong but also make fun of protestors and the French. It was a weird move, but S.N.L. is full of those. After the monologue, we get a hilarious tv show parody called Pranksters where the host (Meyers) deals with a mentally deranged fan (Walken) who does his own prank, and it’s actually pretty dark. I loved it.
We get yet another Continental sketch that I feel was being stretched way too thin. There is a fantastic sketch about four men in a lifeboat (Walken, Armisen, Forte, and Meyers) with Walken as the Captain who is entirely responsible for the shipwreck. Dean Edwards plays Don Cheadle in a History channel parody recognizing Black Americans. He tells us about the first Black person to shout at the screen during a movie (Tracy Morgan). The classic Colonel Angus sketch is fine; I don’t think it is as funny as I thought it was when I was in college. Weekend Update is what it is at this point, but it did have a bright spot. Will Ferrell shows up as himself and brings on Britney Spears to talk about how they are a couple now and running a farm. I thought both of them did an excellent job in that bit. Then we get yet another Lovers sketch; when Walken came on, they basically did many bits that were hits previously to see if they stuck with the audience for another round.
Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan departed before Season 29 began. This moved Will Forte, Seth Meyers, and Jeff Richards into the main cast. Fred Armisen remained featured and was joined by Finesse Mitchell and a guy you’ll be hearing a lot about, Kenan Thompson. Jeff Richards would leave in January, and no one would remember him. We watched the Lindsay Lohan episode for this season, which kicks off with W. Bush (Forte) having a conversation with Cheney (Hammond), and it plays weird. S.N.L. basically does the whole W. Bush is a dumb thing but plays Cheney as being the sensible one. In retrospect, it definitely softens the true evil of Dick Cheney. Then we get a commercial parody for Loudon’s Back Tattoo Removal which is a pretty funny bit mocking the “tramp stamp” trend of the time.
Then we get a Jarrett’s Room sketch (Fallon), one of the dumbest, most unfunny pieces the show has ever done. Do you know what weed is? Then you know the whole of the jokes in this recurring character. Next, there’s the Hogwarts Academy sketch with Harry (Dratch) and Ron (Meyers) drooling over a buxom Hermione (Lohan). It’s another one-note sketch that is funny in the first few seconds but wears out its welcome. There’s Weekend Update which Fey and Fallon are still hosting. Then we have the infamous Debbie Downer sketch. I do like this sketch a lot, but I have to ask myself, is it funny because of the writing or funny because the cast members lose their shit during it? It’s definitely a mix of both, but I have to wonder if it would have been as memorable without the performers breaking. The final sketch pairs Rudolph and Armisen, who were always such a great pair as non-descript Europeans hosting a bizarre music show. These were always fun. There is an extremely dated parody of T.A.T.U. that I am sure most younger people would not get.
Jimmy Fallon leaves at the end of season 29 to go be a movie star (it never happened), so there’s a little shuffling. Armisen gets bumped up to the main cast, and Richards is out. The featured players are Finesse Mitchell, Kenan Thompson, Rob Riggle, and joining in May Jason Sudekis. Will Ferrell hosted the episode we watched, and it has a pretty good cold open with him being overly nervous about hosting and interacting with cast members and Lorne along the way. We get a Celebrity Jeopardy bit which is another sketch I found hilarious at the time, but man, they beat the horse to fucking death at a certain point.
Then we have one of my favorite sketches with Rudolph and Armisen playing a European couple, both named Nooni. Their son, played by Ferrell, is also named Nooni. Fey and Poehler host Weekend Update, an improvement due to the absence of Fallon. There is a sketch with Ferrell as a waiter serving a couple who know him as a friend of their son. The husband (Forte) gets very intense when he hears the man is dropping out of college, and I feel like there’s something here, not sure if they mined it good enough to make the sketch good, though.
There’s still some sense of personality in these episodes, which is good. Armisen & Rudolph definitely seem like a consistent pair. Poehler & Fey are gelling on Update. I have always been a big fan of Forte and Dratch so getting to see them is a treat. However, there’s a growing sense of homogeneity over the show. The rough edges have been whittled down, which could be a good thing, but the direction the series will end up in in the present feels like something is missing.