When was the last time you watched SNL? No, really, I'm curious about this, since I haven't bothered to watch it an age: you hear dispatches from critics once or twice a year where someone bemoans how boring the show has gotten while another talks about how THIS is the year that it all turns around! I sometimes wonder if the show actually exists in any real capacity or if it's just floating off in space, all the criticisms just part of some weird perpetual engine meant to keep it us thinking it still exists.
Well, now I've got proof, since I went and watched the latest episode which features musical guest Nicki Minaj
as something more than a musical guest. Most performers get sidelined until their performance, but then, it looks like Minaj was chosen specifically to play a few parts. Whether playing Beyonce in a spoof on the classic nativity scene (with Minaj-as-Beyonce-as-who-else-but-the-Virgin Mary?), posing as a Kim Kardashian who's eager to clear up just why, exactly, those nude pictures had to be taken (it was all part of a series of public service announcements) or as a memory of herself that needs erasing from an over-crowded brain, she seemed less a last-minute replacement for an itinerant cast-member than a deliberate casting choice. Not that she had to do too much, she's only got a line or two to deliver, but then maybe they were trying to save her voice for her eight minutes worth of musical performances: halfway through the show she stepped on stage with Skylar Grey to perform "Bed of Lies" and closed out the show with "Only" and "All Things Go."
Now, where I fall in the critical debate is something a bit more nebulous. I'd love to side with the naysayers, since the pessimist in me is quick to write off SNL, but that would require me to say I cared enough after watching the performances. It's not that Minaj was awful or even that the writing was terrible but the whole thing -- musical performances, skits and all -- felt so perfunctory, even "All Things Go" (Minaj's meditation on loss) that it would be hard for me to muster venom. There's a reason I think most people don't care about SNL anymore: it's because nobody cares, not even the cast. Again, it's a perpetual motion machine.