Working Past the Mothballs 📼

With an obscure-yet-surprisingly-relevant sketch that most people were likely unfamiliar with, Saturday Night Live’s unexpected need for curated old content paid off over the weekend. Those with archives should take notes.

Gotta love Betamax. (Gilgongo/Flickr)

As I’ve noted before, I still watch Saturday Night Live nearly every week, and while there have been some definite weak points throughout its recent run, but SNL gets its power from a mixture of on-the-pulse timeliness and a willingness to embrace cultural absurdism along the way.

But Saturday’s extremely barebones SNL, coming a year and a half after the show aired its last “at-home” pandemic episode, was a sight to see because by all accounts, it shouldn’t have worked. A show with no musical guests, two cast members (Kenan Thompson and Michael Che), one famous host (Paul Rudd), and two other famous people who have long been saviors to SNL in the past. That’s all they had, basically.

As SNL episodes go, it was a bologna sandwich with one slice of bread, a pickle, and a single effective dollop of Grey Poupon. The dollop—effectively, the role Tom Hanks and Tina Fey played on the show—went a long way to making a mediocre sandwich palatable.

But I’d like to spend a second talking about something really clever SNL did with that equally palatable pickle. Out of the blue, the show resurfaced “The Global Warming Christmas Special,” a forgotten sketch that dated to 1990, with the only comedic threads tying it to the modern day being Tom Hanks, appearing in the clip as a parody of Dean Martin, and Lorne Michaels, the show-runner then and now.

The sketch was full of references to things that were arguably dated even then. Dean Martin? Sally Struthers? Carl Sagan? Isaac Asimov? George Hamilton? The actual Ralph Nader? You could smell the mothballs all the way from your 4K television screen. (Nice to see Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, and Chris Farley on screen again, though.) Tom Hanks was effectively showing us the SNL equivalent of an old home movie, one that he was personally involved in making.

But the thing that made the sketch hold together in this unusual setting, this combination of new and old that was put together out of necessity, was the way that the dated nature of the sketch was underlined by an extremely familiar debate in 2021: the idea that climate change and global warming remains extremely problematic and relevant now, but the motivation, then and now, was to downplay it in favor of literally everything else. In fact, the dated references actually somehow feel more relevant because it further underlines the general point being made.

Saturday Night Live has nearly 50 years of clips to pull from, and, nonetheless, it’s very surprising that it had a clip that most people likely did not remember that: 

  1. Was nominally about the holidays;
  2. Starred one of the five comic actors in the studio on Saturday night;
  3. Featured a topic arguably even more relevant now than it was back then.

That is brilliant curation, the kind of curation that people who try to resurface old things should closely study. The fact that SNL managed to say something new by highlighting something old is the kind of thing I personally try to do all the time with my writing. It’s hard, and the opportunities don’t always show themselves.

Sure, some of it is pure luck. But much of it is great curation. Keep your old stuff around and keep an idea of what’s in your archive so you can pull it out when necessary.

You never know when you’re going to need a backup.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 1 minute, 54 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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