NBC (Saturdays, 11:30 p.m. ET)
Mary Tyler Moore, Jim Brown and Richard Nixon knew when it was time to quit. Saturday Night Live, it seems, does not. In its 10th season, the once irreverent, funny voice of a generation has become the product of some comedy Cuisinart, turning out soupy leftovers. The season premiere relied on old jokes: “Is it true,” a 10-year-old asked daddy Billy Crystal, “that Paul McCartney was in another group before Wings?” Old. Howard Cosell imitations. Old. Veg-o-matic jokes. Older. Vanessa Williams jokes. Getting old. Crotch jokes. The oldest, begun with God’s gag when He played Eden. Political humor, once SNL’s mainstay, is now stale and tasteless: Crystal imagines Geraldine Ferraro’s past New York boyfriends saying, “I slept wid her.” Even its social humor is gone; it is downright shocking to see a member of the now lily-white SNL cast making a racial joke. But that’s not all that’s missing. SNL’s risky creativity is gone, too. Comedy doesn’t have to be profound to be funny; it can be silly. David Letterman’s show won a deserved Emmy for throwing watermelons off the top of a tower, just for the heck of it. Gone, too, are any instant stars, any Piscopos, Murphys, John Belushis, Chases, Radners. The stars in this SNL cast will find that their fame was made elsewhere: Crystal on Soap, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest on Spinal Tap. The old SNL was successful and special because it was a voice of its times. The new SNL does not try to find humor in the times, in Reagan, Yuppies, computers or MTV. Instead, with its old, generic jokes, this SNL could have been made 20 or 30 years ago; it is the voice of no era at all.