Opinion: 'SNL' Has a Lady Problem
By Tracey Harrington McCoy Posted Dec 12th 2009 08:00AM
Commentary: This isn't an article about how there aren't enough women in the cast of 'Saturday Night Live.' It's not a diatribe on the state of the current season. And we're not going to talk any more about last week's "Tiger" sketches. What we're wondering is: what's up with SNL's lady problem?
In the span of 35 seasons, some amazing actresses have been discovered on the show, including first year icons, Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin. But during the past 30 years, the real impact female players have been few and far between. Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Kristen Wiig. That's about it.
Other women have starred on the show, but to very different results. This list actually includes some big names in comedy: Joan Cusack, Sarah Silverman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Janeane Garofalo, and Laurie Metcalfe (she appeared in just one episode in 1981). And yet they were underused, ignored, or got frustrated and left. We're talking real talent here! What happened?
To be fair, the late-night show does get it right sometimes. The 2008-09 season got monster ratings, lots of publicity, and a renewed interest in a declining-though-beloved franchise. And the reason behind it? It was the first time in decades the show acknowledged the talent and depth of its female players. Sketch comedy queen Amy Poehler was still around, comedy chameleon Kristen Wiig was capturing every TV writer's attention, and the legendary Tina Fey was returning regularly to parody Sarah Palin. It was a winning trifecta of funny.
But this season it's back to mostly male-dominated sketches. We'll get a "Gilly" or "Target Lady" thrown our way every so often, but mostly, the female characters seem incidental or just an afterthought. And what might be the most jarring aspect of all, the show is now relying on Kenan Thompson to play all black female characters. Is it funny sometimes? Sure. But every time?
In fact, this phenomenon carries over into the hosts as well. This season, Megan Fox, January Jones, and Blake Lively were essentially window dressing for their respective episodes. Some may blame this on each host's individual comedic ability, and while in some cases that might be true, it's not for all.
Fox, the stove-hot 'Transformers' star, showed some real pizazz during her season premiere episode. Too bad she wasn't given enough material to really showcase anything. There was one notable exception this season: Taylor Swift. Her episode featured her front and center. Someone somewhere acknowledged and appreciated her talent. How come this isn't happening at a cast member level more frequently?
SNL boss Lorne Michaels hired two new women this season to join Wiig and (the underused) Abby Elliot: Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad. In the 8 episodes broadcast this season so far, they've been in a combined total of around 12 sketches. In the 4-5 sketches she's done, Pedrad has shown precise comedic timing and an uncanny ability for impressions (her Kim Kardashian was spot on). Slate made quite the splash in the season premiere when she dropped an "F" bomb during her first starring sketch. But since recuperating from that slight mishap, she too has shown some solid sketch-comedy acting chops.
So here we are, halfway through the 35th season of the series. SNL has four strong female players, all pretty darn funny. This is a golden opportunity to turn SNL's lady problem around. We're really hoping he, and the show's writers, realize the comedy weapons they have and start to use them all.
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