This weekend’s SNL, with host Dwayne Johnson and musical act Ray LaMontagne, followed pretty much the same template as every other post-election episode of the show: lame cold open, strong monologue, some hit-or-miss sketches (with one big hit coming after midnight), a relatively progressive (all things considered) musical act, and a “Weekend Update” segment that runs nearly as long as Watchmen. While the show itself was average (which is to say, it was pretty decent), there was one particularly irksome moment that occurred during “Weekend Update.” Yes, that’s right, Justin Timberlake showed up for another cameo, which marks the third time he’s been on the show (!) since November 15. Which would be all well and good, we suppose, if, you know, he was actually funny. Unfortunately, he is not, and his late-night overexposure is starting to reflect negatively on both the show and his own widely admired if extremely limited comedic chops (come on, you saw Love Guru, you know it’s true). Oh yeah, same goes for Cameron Diaz.
Here’s the thing. We recognize that celebrity cameos have always been an important component of the SNL formula. Whether it’s Barbra Streisand showing up on the set of “Coffee Talk” or Madonna appearing in a “Justify My Love”–inspired wet dream of Wayne Campbell’s, a surprise celebrity appearance is always a good energy boost for the cast and the audience (and they don’t hurt the show’s profile in the media, either). However, when the show repeatedly trots out familiar one-trick ponies like Timberlake and Cameron Diaz like it has been in the last year, the audience’s reaction to the cameo begins to respond in a fashion very similar to the American dollar these days — it loses a good deal of its value. Moreover, these moves are also beginning to smack of desperation, as though Lorne and the rest of the team aren’t sure how they can continue to maintain (let alone build and grow) the reputation the show built as Must-see TV during the 2008 election.
Mind you, we don’t really have any major beef when either Timberlake or Diaz agrees to host every other year or so. They make for good show hosts because they’re good sports (read: They’re willing to embarrass themselves), they adapt better than most of their peers to the demands of sketch comedy, and heck, they also perform when it comes to the ratings. For unabashed SNL fans like this writer, those are all good things. However, with this weekend’s Timberlake cameo, we feel like the show crossed a line from wanting celebrity cameos because they worked for the bit to a place where they found themselves needing them to compensate for their own creative shortcomings with star power. Trust us, SNL, you’re better than that.
*Cameron Diaz has appeared in the “Cougar Den” sketches three times in the last year.