Follow TV Tropes


YMMV / Saturday Night Live

Go To

The show as a whole contains examples of:

  • Acceptable Political Targets: While the show has always had leaned towards the left, they still mocked both ends of the spectrum and politicians of all backgrounds were fair game. Recently, especially after the 2016 election, they’ve aimed most of their political jokes towards conservatives. That being said, they still make fun of liberals every so often.
  • Acceptable Targets: Used with varying degrees of intensity: the more the writers hate it, the meaner they'll be. So far, everything has been ripe for parody.
  • Advertisement:
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: At this point, is Darrell Hammond's Sean Connery on Celebrity Jeopardy! for any reason other than repeatedly and proudly making Your Mom jokes and otherwise Troll Will Ferrell's Alex Trebek?
  • Awesome Music: In the second season episode broadcast on Oct. 2, 1976, the musical guest was singer Joe Cocker. At one point, he started singing "Feelin' Alright". Then, for the second verse, he was joined by John Joe Cocker. The result was a highly memorable duet.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice:
    • Channing Tatum's first time hosting (who actually was a stripper for a year before becoming an actor), the monologue especially. The only non-stripper bits people remember from this episode is the Newt Gingrich: Moon President cold opening and the Weekend Update segment with Kristen Wiig as Lana Del Rey trying to defend herself against claims that her performance on SNL was a disaster because of her atonal caterwauling and inability to move around.
    • Advertisement:
    • Inverted in the monologue as Tatum (the stripper) remembers all of his customers (an allegedly religious woman named Denise, a married woman named Bridget [whom Tatum remembers as "Flithy Bridget" because of all the filthy things she would ask for], a man named Leslie [who ends up dying when Tatum uses his stripper moves to refresh his memory], and Leslie's doctor, Dr. Matthews), much to their chagrin.
    • The episode hosted by Alec Baldwin and his wife at the time Kim Basinger on February 12, 1994 will forever be remembered as the episode that had the "Canteen Boy Gets Molested" sketch (and the episode after that, hosted by Martin Lawrence, will be remembered for Martin's raunchy monologue about women's hygiene [which was so tasteless, it nearly got everyone on the show fired and is often cut in reruns and replaced with title cards explaining the gist of the monologue and why it can't be shown on TV anymore]).
  • Broken Base:
    • Dick Ebersol's era. Some regard it as the high point of the show after the original cast; others think of it as a bastardized version of the original concept, designed to pimp Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo (and later, Martin Short, Billy Crystal, and Christopher Guest) at the expense of everyone else. And there are those who say that it may not be as great as Lorne Michaels' original cast, but it is worlds better than what Jean Doumanian turned out in her short stint as executive producer.
    • Every season after the first five years has a Broken Base (save for the seasons that were universally bad — season 6, season 11 note , and season 20).
    • The Andrew "Dice" Clay episode, which got a ton of controversy from them even picking Dice Clay to host it (hell, it even was one of the deciding factors for Nora Dunn to not seek contract renewal, as she was the most disgusted by the personality Clay is known to have). It was a polarizing choice for both the cast and fans for the penultimate episode of the 15th season. This is ironic because a good bit of fans seemed to have mixed feelings about Dunn, and there have been stories about how she was viewed by the cast (not to mention that she is somewhat still vocal about her time on SNL to this day, and some bad feelings still linger).
    • The increased emphasis on political skits and humor in the wake of the Trump presidency. Many people have enjoyed the coverage of the extreme chaos of the Trump administration and find the skits hilarious. Other people think the show is relying too much on anti-Trump humor at the expense of other current events and the jokes have become stale, especially since Alec Baldwin's impressions of Trump seem too lazily-acted and inaccurate.note 
  • Creator's Pet:
    • Lorne most definitely has his favorites. Some of these favorites include Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon. There were surely some from the past, but it seems even more blatant now.
    • For Dick Ebersol, Eddie Murphy was his pet Up to Eleven, and he wasn't shy about letting you know that. SNL was basically the Eddie Murphy Show from Season 7 to 9 (until Murphy left). After that it became the Billy Crystal / Christopher Guest / Martin Short show. Ebersol definitely thought in terms of "This person/people are the lead(s), and everyone else is backup."
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Frequently. This is most invoked in the final Weekend Update segment of the season during the Colin Jost/Michael Che era, where they write jokes for each other which are deliberately made to be offensive and/or humiliating. Colin almost always has to read a joke Michael wrote about black people, in which the real humor comes from Michael's "offense." The best/worst instance is likely a case where Michael makes Colin say he won't read the joke, not because it's offensive but because a black guy is holding his cue card. Colin then reads a line where he fires the man, and Michael admonishes him for firing a man on Christmas.
    • In one of the editions of Weekend Update At Home, Michael used his recently deceased grandmother to coax Colin to read an offensive joke.
  • Dork Age: The show has had plenty of ups and downs in its decades-long history. However, there are three seasons that are generally singled out as being particularly embarrassing:
    • Season 6 (1980-1): The first season after Lorne Michaels left the show and the entire cast was replaced (including the last of the original cast). Lorne wanted Al Franken to take over as producer, but NBC president Fred Silverman refused because of a segment Franken did on SNL mocking Silverman (Silverman was relatively humorless). Silverman instead chose Jean Doumanian to produce SNL, and she proved extremely inept at the task. Many of the sketches were extremely crass, and critics wrote scathingly of the show's decline in quality. Dick Ebersol took over as producer late in the season (only one episode was made that season after he was hired before a writer's strike ended it) and stayed on for another four years. Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo were the only Doumanian cast members to make it into the following season, and the entire season helped lead to Silverman's career taking a nose-dive after success in the 70's; this got an honorable mention in What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events In Television History, which took several shots at Silverman.
    • Season 11 (1985-6): The first season after Lorne's return, the entire cast was replaced again, this time with a new cast that included such famous or soon-to-be-famous names as Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, Joan Cusack, and Damon Wayans. However, such an eclectic group didn't work well together, and the show once again faced critical bashing and danger of cancellation. Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Nora Dunn, and A. Whitney Brown were the only cast members kept for next season, where a group of new cast members led by Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman saved the show.
    • Season 20 (1994-95) The first season after Hartman left (and two seasons after Carvey left), the cast was now led by the likes of Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade, who weren't versatile enough to play the wide range of character types usually expected of the main cast membersnote . Sketches often had very thin premises, many centering around the OJ Simpson trial, and levels of sophomoric humor reached critical mass, resulting in lambasting by critics. Also, reports of behind-the-scenes turmoil, much of it involving Janeane Garofalo (who joined the cast that year but left in disgust midway through), led to the perception of general decay. More than half the cast was replaced after the season, and a new group led by Will Ferrell helped create another resurgence.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • The Blues Brothers. Their music was so good that they got not one but two spinoff films.
    • The Ambiguously Gay Duo, for their memetic name.
  • Fandom Heresy: With Jean Doumanian's time as producer being considered Canon Discontinuity to the extent that Saturday Night Live has a canon to begin with, it takes a lot of grit and energy to defend her 12-episode era.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Has its own page.
  • Growing the Beard: The Season 1 episode hosted by Richard Pryor took the show from being a grungy, New York-style variety show into the edgy, late-night sketch comedy show where anything can happen (scripted or otherwise).
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Phil Hartman's opening credits clip has him sitting across a table from a woman whose back is to the camera. That's his wife Brynn, a failed actress and drug addict who eventually murdered him. Further, you can see that her dangling earring is swinging like a pendulum, because she'd been trying to get her face on screen but was repeatedly told by the director to turn away from the camera just before the clip begins.
    • The episode that John McCain hosted in 2002 was reaired in tribute to him after his death. In one skit, he's interviewed by Tim Russert, played by Darrell Hammond, who hounds him about running for president again, refusing to acknowledge his denials. Although it's briefly Hilarious in Hindsight when he denies any interest in running in 2008, when he DID run, it's mostly this as Russert cites various dates—"How about in 2028?" "I'll be 90!", knowing that both men would pass away long before then.
    • During a late February episode, Michael Che made several separate jokes about the coronavirus pandemic (which was in it's early stages at the time) and his grandmother, only to lose her to the illness a few weeks later.
    • Matt Foley always starting out by saying he's 35 years old, an age Chris Farley died two years shy of.
  • He Really Can Act: A ton of the non-actors who have hosted the show—musicians, politicians, athletes—have proven to be very talented comedians as well. Even the actors themselves—plenty of well-known dramatic actors have turned out to be very funny people.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Also has its own page.
  • Hollywood Homely:
    • One of the "Kirby" sketches is a spoof of Aliens, where one of the space marines claims that they've been on the ship for so long that even the Captain Ersatz of Vasquez is "starting to look good". "Vasquez" is played by resident hottie Cecily Strong.
    • There's also Cecily as Cathyanne, the hilariously unattractive chain-smoking white trash woman with one glass eye (only revealed after her good eye was blinded in an eclipse).
    • Before Cecily joined up, the Shawna sketches headlined by Kristen Wiig would often have Abby Elliot cast as the less attractive female in contrast. Then again, this is Shawna we're talking about...
    • The Matt Shatt sketches, where Mikey Day plays a dork who always lands a ridiculously hot wife. The gag is that Matt is so unattractive that his wives must be blind, forced into it, or some other impairment that makes it impossible for him to get such hot women. However, Matt is just Mikey wearing glasses; it's mostly his geeky interests (like being a Smurfs fan) that make him come across as unattractive.
  • Just Here for Godzilla: Most people who watch the show only watch it just to see one thing (be it a favorite sketch/recurring character/cast member/favorite host) and cite it as the main reason to watch the show. Weekend Update is commonly cited as the best example of this, since the simplicity of the sketch means it can be consistent even as the rest of the show wobbles.
  • Memetic Loser:
    • Garrett Morris is the prototypical example of a cast member whose career went absolutely nowhere after leaving the show. Many later black cast members have said they took pains not to end up like him. Morris has carved a niche as a comedic character actor, though.
    • Joe Piscopo and his bizarre career trajectory. From co-headliner in the Eddie Murphy years to largely forgotten movies and solo comedy projects to an amateur Bodybuilding phase and finally a stint as a right-wing radio host.
    • Luke Null, who had just about every fan wondering why the producers even hired him as he was given a grand total of one showy part in his time on the show...which was cut from broadcast.
  • Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales:
    • Bill Swerski's Superfans, the recurring sketch that portrayed Chicago sports fans as fat, drunk, imbeciles with thick accents who were delusional about the abilities of their favorite players, was extremely popular in the 1990s, but especially with Chicago sports fans. The characters were so embraced there that the Chicago Bears adopted their catchphrase ("Da Bears") as an official team slogan and the actors even appeared in-character during the Chicago Bulls 1993 championship celebration.
    • People from the panhandle area of Florida often joke that the "Floribama Shore" sketch featuring Saoirse Ronan is "not a skit, but a documentary." In response to a skit parodying Love Island starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, UK viewers also confirm that Love Island is really just like that.
  • Memetic Mutation: Nearly every other sketch has spawned a meme. See the Memetic Mutation page for more details.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: While the episode hosted by Donald Trump opened to terrible critical reviews, it was one of the more successful episodes in terms of ratings and was argued by Trump's opponents to have helped legitimize him.
  • One-Scene Wonder: With the online release of the cut-for-time My Little Stepchild sketch, viewers are heaping praise on the Creepy Child actor and questioning the decision to leave this one sketch out of broadcast.
  • Overshadowed by Controversy:
    • The Tim Robbins episode from season 18 is remembered almost exclusively for being the notorious episode in which Sinéad O'Connor ripped Pope John Paul II's photo and screamed, "Fight the real enemy!"
    • After a rough start, the Jean Doumanian-produced season 6 actually had some decent episodes as the year went on, but that all went out the window when Charles Rocket made his Precision F-Strike, which became what both that season and Rocket himself were best known for. Only hardcore SNL buffs even remember who hosted that particular episode (Dallas's Charlene Tilton).
    • The 1976 Louise Lasser episode is commonly cited as one of the worst single episodes of the show’s entire run, with Lasser slurring her lines horribly and suspected to be on some kind of drugs.
  • Pandering to the Base: When Bill Hader hosted the show in 2014, a new Puppetry 101 skit with his puppet Tony was done, as Bill had appeared on Howard Stern's show shortly before that episode, and Stern told him that the previous skit with Tony was his favorite of all time. Bill even hinted that Tony may make a comeback when he hosts, and even said if he did, people could thank Howard Stern for it.
  • Replacement Scrappy:
    • Believe it or not, Bill Murray was considered a Poor Man's Substitute for Chevy Chase when he joined in the second season, to the point where he received hate mail.
    • The season six cast. The first episode's Cold Open had the new castmembers introduce themselves to the audience by comparing themselves to previous castmembers. Gail Matthius described herself as a cross betweeen Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin, Charles Rocket described himself as a cross between Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, and Gilbert Gottfried described himself as a cross between John Belushi and "and that guy from last year who did Rod Serling, and no one can remember his name" (Harry Shearer). This did nothing to endear them to the audience and by the end of the season, everyone was given the boot except Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy.
    • Lampshaded by Colin Quinn on the first episode in which he replaced Norm Mac Donald in the Weekend Update sketches: "You know how you go to your favorite bar, and your local bartender isn't there? You ask, 'Where's Jeff?' 'Jeff no longer works here, I'm Steve.' Then you're thinking, hey, who's this idiot? I like Jeff. But you still want your drink. And even though Steve doesn't mix your drink the same way you're used to, like Jeff, you still like the bar. You don't want to have to go to a different bar. And even Steve might feel kinda bad because Jeff trained him. Jeff showed him how to work the cash register, where the tonic was on the soda gun, who tips, who doesn't. Well, I'm Steve. What can I get you?" The monologue was well-received, but Quinn did not prove popular and didn't last long in the position before being replaced himself.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap:
    • Bill Murray was hated by fans for replacing Chevy Chase. In his early appearances, he seemed awkward and forgot his lines. By the end of the second season, he won audiences over by evolving into his sardonic, sleazy know-it-all persona and giving them Nick the Lounge Singer and Todd DiLamuca.
    • Colin Jost initially drew numerous criticism as a Weekend Update host for seeming wooden and unfunny. His Gallows Humor jokes received a lot of audible boos and groans from the audience. However, after they changed his co-anchor from Cecily Strong to Michael Che, he became more well received, with many praising the strong banter he has had with Che. Today the two are seen as one of the most stable parts of the show, especially on nights when the other sketches might not be as strong.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
  • Seasonal Rot: While any season can fall into this depending on who you ask, three are highlighted as low points of the show: sixth (1980-1981), as the entire cast and writing staff had left, and the new producer knew nothing about comedy - by the end of it, NBC stepped in and fired everyone except Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy; eleventh (1985-86), where Lorne Michaels came back and tried to assemble a cast of semi-famous people to be cast members, only to almost get canned due to plummeting Nielsen ratings; and 20th (1994-1995), which relied too much on juvenile comedy and sketches about the OJ Simpson murder trial.
    • Season 35 is an unusual example in that it wasn't seen as too bad while airing, but several years later, the writing does seem very unusual and geared towards certain cast members (usually Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig). Some other seasons are usually seen as of low quality as well, such as seasons 28 (due to Jimmy Fallon's constant cracking up and the absence of Will Ferrell), 30 (had very mediocre political sketches during the 2004 election, the Ashlee Simpson lip-synching fiasco had people asking if the show was even live anymore, and everything just seemed kinda slow and dull. The upside of season 30 was that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did a good job on Weekend Update), 33 (but only because the Writers Guild strike caused a lot of potentially good episodes to go unwritten), season 38 (the Justin Bieber Valentine's Day Episode, too much reliance on Bill Hader and Fred Armisen), and (to some extent) season 39 (criticism for not having a more ethnically diverse cast, the sketch-writing quality is too unbalanced, pretaped sketches seem to dominate over the live ones, absence of Creator Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, too many new cast members who aren't seasoned to be on the shownote . Basically, if a fan-favorite cast member leaves, then the show will go through what's called a "rebuilding season," which means that the show's humor quality will either be mixed to in the toilet. See "They Changed It, Now It Sucks!" below.
    • Seasons 44 and 45 have caught some flak for what is perceived to be an over reliance on Kate McKinnon's talents as well as humor surrounding the Trump administration that lacks the satirical bite of programs such as Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Additionally, many skits (especially those focusing on the Democratic primaries) rely on Stunt Casting from both former cast members and celebrity guest starsnote  beyond the week's host to vary degrees of effectiveness. Even Alec Baldwin has admitted he's become tired of constantly guest appearing as Trump.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: One of the show's many curses (the curse of not being considered an edgy sketch show, thanks to the many Dueling Shows that always try to one-up the humor — the biggest offenders being Fridays, In Living Color!, and MADtv), besides the "cast members dying" curse and the Funny Aneurysm Moments it's accrued over the years. In particular, the classic reputation of the earliest seasons often baffles younger viewers, who little realize that SNL was one of the very first shows to employ the raunchy, sex-and-drug-fueled humor that is all-pervasive on television today.
  • Shallow Parody: Zigzagged. Some sketches (particularly the Harry Potter parodies) are fleshed-out and on-point; others are just there to serve as the backdrop for an SNL recurring character to interact with other fictional characters, to be a Deconstructive Parody, or to speak out on a certain topic.
  • Signature Scene:
    • The one time Chevy Chase couldn't appear on the show and winds up calling on the phone, after which they replicate his Prat Fall by pushing the phone off the table.
    • For the 90s this would have to be the More Cowbell sketch, which is still being referenced in places like Fortnite nearly 20 years later!
    • Kate McKinnon's emotionally charged cover of "Hallelujah" for Season 42. It even got a big Call-Back in the season finale's cold open.
  • Special Effects Failure:
    • SNL has always been known for flimsy sets, cheap costumes, and obvious Stock Footage (Lorne Michaels even said on an E! special about SNL's history that the show had this problem), especially in the 1970s and 1980s episodes. This doesn't happen so much in the episodes of the 1990s and 2000s, and the 2010s have been fairly good with the visual effects given the close deadlines, but it still does crop up occasionally. More recent seasons have occasionally added in bad Chroma Keying as well. Some sketches have used this and ended with the cheap set getting destroyed in some way.
    • Something of the reverse happens in season 43, when Leslie Jones has to rip up a pair of jeans at the end of the sketch, but apparently nobody thought to give the jeans a once-over and maybe cut out some stitches or something, leading to Leslie just pulling at it ineffectively before giving up. Either way it makes a heck of a Product Placement opportunity.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: The near-constant changing of writers and cast members is one of the most common reasons why fans have a love/hate relationship with the show.
  • Tough Act to Follow:
    • When Norm Mac Donald was fired in the midst of a mild controversy, Colin Quinn's first episode as the Weekend Update anchor acknowledged this trope essentially saying "don't shoot the new guy."
    • The reviews for Season 43 (2017-18) have been noticeably harsher than for the triumphant Season 42 (2016-17).
  • Values Dissonance:
    • One skit involved a group of teenagers (played by Andy Samberg, Shia LaBeouf, Bill Hader, and Will Forte) very unconvincingly trying to pass themselves off as adults to a store cashier (played by Kenan Thompson) so that they can purchase beer without the use of an ID. English viewers were baffled by the teens repeatedly to prove to the cashier that they're over 21, as the legal drinking age in the UK is 18 note .
    • Christopher Walken's "The Continental" recurring character is based around the premise of a wealthy lothario trapping women in his deluxe hotel room and trying to force himself on them. This use of Rape as Comedy was already edgy for the time period but certainly wouldn't fly today.
    • Two of Alex Trebek's quips from Celebrity Jeopardy! when Will Ferrell was a cast member. He asked whether a celebrity was English/Icelandic (Minnie Driver/Björk respectively) or retarded. Sean Connery also says that Robin Williams might be "legally retarded."
    • The entire purpose of the character Pat (played by Julia Sweeney) was everyone else's inability to determine Pat's sex. In the 90s', the concept was absurdly hilarious and even praised by some who felt it balanced out the sex divide among the SNL cast at the time. However, Pat would be horrifyingly offensive today with the increased presence of the transgender community and awareness of the troubles they face regarding their sex, especially with increased awareness of genders outside the male/female binary note .
  • Values Resonance: The "Buckwheat Dead" sketch is even more relevant than it was in the early '80s, as the problems/phenomena the sketch presented (inadvertently glorifying killers by extensively focusing on them; desensitizing audiences to violence by showing it repeatedly; imappropriate product placement) are still with us, even more so.
  • Win Back the Crowd: After a long period of being seen as stale and worn-out, the show massively regained its lost popularity during the 2016 Presidential Elections and the Trump Administration, likely due to the heated political climate during the former and the massive controversy surrounding the latter. This in turn ended up getting the show its highest ratings in over 20 years. However, this has started to cause a Broken Base between the show's viewers. Many people have enjoyed the coverage of the extreme chaos of the Trump administration and find the skits hilarious, but there are also people who find anti-Trump humor in general to be stale and have tuned out as a result.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: A lot of SNL's sketches from the 1970s were drug-influenced (such as one that had an Abraham Lincoln portrait calling Richard Nixon a "dip.") and a lot of the writers and cast members at the time were high as kites. These days, the writers and cast members aren't like their 1970s counterparts (at worst, they get high from sleep deprivation in writing and planning the show; at best, some of the cast and crew members smoke weed, but only in their off-hours), but there are some crazy sketches and characters that seem like they're the product of a drug-influenced mind (Toonces, The Cat Who Can Drive a Car, Will Ferrell's impression of Harry Caray, Bill Hader's Stefonnote , just to name a few).
  • The Woobie: Kate Mckinnon as Olya Povlatsky, a Russian woman from a small village that's basically a death sentence with an area code. It goes well beyond just a Hilariously Abusive Childhood, as she's shown to be a Death Seeker at times.
    "This is how I wake up every single morning, just watch." (mimes sleeping, then Catapult Nightmare and sobbing uncontrollably)


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: