I love Saturday Night Live. Even terrible episodes have one or two redeeming sketches. At the very least, Weekend Update is a safe bet for a few laughs. When it was announced that Télé-Québec would be producing SNL Québec, I was thrilled and cautiously optimistic. There is no denying what a cultural institution the show is. The U.S. version of SNL – created by Canadian Lorne Michaels, who is still executive producing after 39 years – carries a soft power during U.S. election years and is undoubtedly a breeding ground for comedians: Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tracy Morgan, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Ana Gasteyer. The list could go on and on.
I want to like SNL Québec – love it, even. But there are too many missteps and unoriginal ideas for a show that is just starting out. There have only been two episodes so far (the first, hosted by Louis-José Houde on Feb. 6 can be streamed on Télé-Quebec’s website), with no guarantee that the show is going to get picked up for more.
There hasn’t been a shortage of items in the news for SNL Québec to parody, but it’s barely touched them. We’re in the middle of an election campaign, and all the show could manage was a cold open featuring a dinner party with the four party leaders and a knock at François Legault’s CAQ, both during the second episode, hosted by Stéphane Rousseau (link to come). I expected more election and political sketches this time around, but maybe that just isn’t the show SNL Québec wants to be. Still, it has some redeeming factors (Katherine Levac, a young cast that’s game for whatever, endless possibilities for musical guests) and potential, and I think it could and should come back, but it needs some work.
Here are my 10 suggestions for how to fix SNL Québec:
The sketches in the first half of the second episode of SNL Québec averaged about seven minutes each. It’s not unusual for some sketches to run longer than others, or for an especially good cold open or monologue to be given extra time, but none of the sketches on SNL Québec benefitted at all from their lengths. In fact, they ran out of steam about halfway through, making it all the more painfully obvious that they needed to end two minutes ago.
Add two cast members
The current cast of Saturday Night Live counts 17 members – that’s way too much, with some comedians not even making it onto every episode. But even when it premièred in 1975, Lorne Michaels’ SNL had seven people on its cast. SNL Québec has only six. The women are especially strong, but it’s a problem that the most exotic member of the cast is Katherine Levac, a Franco-Ontarian. Speaking of whom …
More Katherine Levac
The 24-year-old comedienne is easily the funniest member of the show’s cast and her Paige, a fixture of the SNL Québec‘s Les Nouvelles SNL (the show’s version of Weekend Update – and I *mean* fixture because she appeared on both episodes), has been a highlight of the series so far.
Of course, Louis-José Houde and Stéphane Rousseau are big draws, and the show needs big names in its infancy to attract the biggest audience possible, but the SNL monologue is supposed to set up the episode to come, not be a forum for established stand-up comics to riff or do their bits. How about a moratorium – for a few weeks, at least – of white, male stand-up comedians as hosts, SNL Québec?
You don’t have to be topical or newsy, but …
If you’re going to be, you should be timely. On tonight’s Les Nouvelles SNL, host Mathieu Quesnel brought up a two-week old story about rigged North Korean elections to knock the CAQ. Translated: “Even with a system like that here, Legault’s CAQ would end up third.” It’s a good joke, mais les nouvelles ne sont pas nouvelles! On that note …
A better Update/Nouvelles SNL
It’s a staple of the show, so it’s really important for every episode to have a memorable Update/Nouvelles SNL segment. Maybe giving Mathieu Quesnel a partner can help make him more magnetic and energetic (and that would surely require hiring at least another cast member – you can’t have a third of your cast on Update), and make him a little less nervous. This portion of the show must be timely and topical – and it is imperative that they move the teleprompter under the camera! Poor Quesnel was looking off to the side throughout tonight’s Nouvelles. This doesn’t make for a very engaging or friendly Nouvelles.
It’s silly, maybe a little shallow, but they use a lot of wigs on the show and they’re not very good. Exhibits A and B from last month’s Louis-José Houde-hosted episode. Tonight wasn’t any better with some of the actors’ natural hair in plain sight.
A different time slot
This is a tough one. SNL Québec has to be on Saturday, and has to be on at night. The current 9 p.m. start time coincided with the end of the Habs-Leafs game on March 22 and on Feb. 6, the Canadiens were playing against the Canucks. It also can’t start at 11:30 p.m. because that’s when the U.S. version is on. My suggestion: 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Télé-Québec is airing Civic Duty, a 2006 film starring Peter Krause and Richard Schiff, tonight. Or …
While they get acquainted with the format and hone their skills, and to give them time to get comfortable, maybe SNL Québec can run for 60 minutes instead of 90? The musical guest can perform just once and the show can air only its strongest sketches.
I don’t mind copying/translating Saturday Night Live sketches, but …
They don’t have any Quebec flair to them. I thought it was odd when SNL Québec did the Schweddy Balls bit on its première episode, but I understand not many people are too familiar with the original. This (and a spoof advertising an energy drink for the boyfriends of actresses) were straight-up translations, though. I wish the writers at SNL Québec would take the ideas from the original sketches and apply them to something Québécois and Québécoises can relate to or recognize more immediately. Suzie Sarcastique, SNL Québec‘s Debbie Downer, is a step in the right direction. It wasn’t brilliant, but it’s important for the show to start cultivating and creating its own characters.