We’ve been telling all our friends that this weekend’s Saturday Night Live was funny. But when pressed, we had to admit the only forward-worthy bit was this Ellen Page–Andy Samberg digital short. So what made us speak so highly of the episode, then? Well, Wilco played well, and we could fast-forward through the politician cameos and other unpromising bits. But mostly it was the overall affection we have toward the current cast — an affection that derives not from their work on their show, but because of their affiliations with other esteemed comedy institutions like 30 Rock (Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudekis, Fred Armisen), Arrested Development (Amy Poehler), and the Apatow Universe (Wiig, Bill Hader). Andy Samberg, of course, earned the respect of comedy geeks everywhere for his work with the Internet-based Lonely Island, which — like all these cred-giving humor side projects — is, if not alt-comedy, at least illuminated by the reflected glow of alt-comedy, unlike SNL, which at this point is as mainstream a comedy institution as you’re ever going to find.
All that is a far cry from the days where the only place to see SNL cast members outside the show were Lorne Michaels’s shitty spinoff cash-ins. In fact, the only recent unsuccessful extracurricular SNLer project we could think of was last summer’s Michaels-produced Hot Rod, which starred Samberg and Hader. In Michaels’s defense, of course, he’s the guy who hired all these talented comedians in the first place. So why, then — especially given his reputation as a Master of Psychology whose distant-father approach has a staff of thousands of people working 80 hours a week to please him — does everyone else who works with the SNL cast seem to get more out of them than he does? —Ben Mathis-Lilley