Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
Saturday Night Live
Season 24 Episode 9
Host: Alec Baldwin, Musical Guest: Luciano Pavarotti (and Vanessa Williams)
Originally broadcast December 12, 1998
I'm no scholar on the history of SNL. There are plenty of people who can tell you all about the historical context of the 24th season of the show, and I'm sure it's all fascinating. However, we aren't here to talk about a show that has somehow remained popular for over forty years. We're here to look at just one episode. You probably know it, and you probably (for some inexplicable reason) love it.
What is the show?
If you don't know what SNL is at this point, it's probably on purpose. I don't want to waste your time explaining something that you've apparently been actively avoiding.
However, here goes: Saturday Night Live is a long running sketch variety show which has remained a mainstay of late night TV programming since its debut in 1975. Each Saturday night a different celebrity host leads an ensemble cast through a litany of mostly awkward comedy, interspersed with a performance or two from a musical guest.
Let's be honest here, SNL has never really been brilliant, except for arguably in the good old days of whatever particular decade you consider to be the the good old days. What it generally promises is perfectly acceptable mediocrity. That isn't a bad thing. The ability to maintain a steady plateau of quality for so long (even if it's a rather shallow plateau) amid the garbage that is about 80% of other TV content is admirable.
Anyway, this isn't about OPINIONS.
What is the episode?
Quite a few moments from SNL's history have managed to work their way into the zeitgeist (sometimes even successful feature films). The last episode from 1998 spawned exactly one classic bit which NBC has been more than happy to dig up and toss out whenever they want to throw together one of their various "Best Of" shows. If you haven't at least heard of this classic holiday sketch, you're, again, probably actively avoiding it.
That's not to say, though, that it's the only highlight from the episode (in fact, I wouldn't even call it a highlight, to be honest). The opening monologue sees regular host Alec Baldwin going on a pretty entertaining riff on the classic Christmas Carol story. It includes a moment where Baldwin visits the "host of Christmas future" and witnesses Jimmy Fallon hosting SNL in far off distant 2011. It probably seemed like a crazy thought back in 1998, but it turned out that by 2011 Fallon had been hosting his own show on NBC for two years.
There's the usual slate of topical jokes on display, and in 1998 nothing was more topical than that whole Clinton Impeachment scandal. I tell you, it's worth watching this show just to be able to revisit, for a fleeting moment, a pre-9/11, pre-warming, pre-recession, pre-Iraq (well, it was during the intermission) world in which the worst problem was that our President had sex with someone.
There's also a bit where Tim Meadows sings a song about using Kwanzaa to convince women to sleep with him, featuring Vanessa Williams as one of his backup singers. She was there to perform with Pavarotti (yeah) in the episode's musical number, so I can only assume they got her into this sketch by making her think the stage was on the way to the bathroom or something.
Anyway, yes, this is the episode with the Schweddy Balls bit. It's a dumb joke, and they pad it out to a comfortable five minutes and forty seconds, but the three performers (Baldwin along with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon) deliver it all so sincerely and the audience is so into it I can't help but be just a teensy bit entertained despite myself.
Where can you watch it?
NBC seems to have a very revisionist history attitude about sharing the archive of Saturday Night live. Seasons 6 - 29 are nowhere to be seen, and the seasons that are available are heavily edited (which makes it tough for idiots like me to make fun of it let me tell you). However, you can catch a handful of sketches from this episode on NBC's website or Hulu.
If the Holidays are all about getting nice and cozy, consider wrapping yourself up in the warm, fluffy blanket that is remembering how great the late 90's were. Come for the Schweddy Balls (sorry), and stay for getting to see John Goodman hilariously drunk in two different scenes (the scenes were scripted, but I'm pretty sure his inebriation was real).
Actually, speaking of John Goodman . . .