Features

Hein's Picks: 46 Years in, SNL's Relevance Machine Marches On

Plus: Monsterland, Warrior and The Good Lord Bird.
  • Saturday Night Live returns to Studio 8H for its 46th season premier this Saturday, October 4.
    Saturday Night Live returns to Studio 8H for its 46th season premier this Saturday, October 4.

    Live from New York, it's still Saturday Night.

    There are checkpoints in life that remind you of how old you really are. I spend my days getting paid to discuss TV, music, sports and fast food — that keeps me young in a lot of ways.

    A couple of decades ago my wife Debbie and I had kids, and that was my first reality check of how old I was. (Wait – I'm a parent? My parents are parents, and I'm nowhere near that age!) Then my oldest daughter Rachel was starting middle school, and I have memories of my first day. My younger daughter Emily is graduating college — didn't I graduate just a few years ago? Can't miss those signs.

    Anyone in entertainment, certainly on the comedy side, wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. Put my name on that list. I grew up with the original cast — Belushi, Aykroyd, Radner - who didn't want to be them?

    My sketch writing/performing started in elementary school and continued through all four years at the University of Michigan. I spent the next year living out of a van touring the country with the Just Kidding sketch comedy troupe. The carrot at the end of the stick was always SNL.

    Like 99.9% of the world, I never got there. But I sure enjoyed trying.

    I hold Lorne Michaels' masterpiece in very high standing. There's nothing else on TV like SNL, and they've been doing it for 46 years. The show has evolved (and devolved) with the times, but what hasn't changed is those cameras going live at 11:30pm on Saturday night.

    The SNL I grew up with was complete counter culture — goofing on the establishment made it the coolest place to be. I was 8 years old when it popped on the screen and had no idea about the cocaine and craziness going on behind the scenes. What I saw on my TV as I babysat my younger brother made me laugh.

    The show’s has had many A-players over the years. Eddie Murphy. Phil Hartman. Tina Fey. The list goes on and on. SNL had to battle becoming the establishment instead of making fun of it, and that's a tough thing to do. If you don't change, you're dead. And the show has certainly changed over the years.

    These days, there's less that’s unique about SNL. After 4+ decades, the show plays by its own set of rules. The cast is talented, but they’re generally interchangeable parts. Guest stars are brought in to play the big politicians, and surprise cameos seem designed to be the predetermined highlight on any given week

    Still, SNL remains critically important to the world of television. It's still live, which will always be impressive. It has adapted with the times, and it’s still is a comedy touchstone for so many aspiring comedians and writers.

    46 seasons — time flies when you're having fun.

    THIS WEEK'S PICKS

    Monsterland (HULU)
    Friday, October 2nd (Premiere)

    It's October and pumpkin spice is in the air. Get ready to get scared.

    Monsterland isn't messing around. This eight-part anthology series involves mermaids, fallen angels and other strange beasts that will not be singing happy Disney tunes.

    You'll recognize most of the excellent cast led in the premiere episode by Kaitlyn Dever, who was fantastic in Unbelievable on Netflix. You're going to want to leave the lights on as you watch things unfold behind every corner.

    It's excellent prep for the scariest month of the year.

    Warrior (CINEMAX)
    Friday, October 2nd 10:00 PM (2nd season premiere)

    So great to be going back to the San Francisco Chinatown wars of the mid 19th century and remember that Cinemax is still making originals (that is, until the current crop runs its course).

    Jonathan Tropper, the guy who co-created the vastly underrated Banshee, continues to work off the handwritten notes of Bruce Lee which is the foundation of the show. Tropper has proven time and again how to bring out the best in martial arts, and season two is no exception.

    We know that newly arrived Ah Sahm can fight, and the Hope Wei puts him to work doing what he does best. This season reveals more about his mysterious background and the ramps up the intensity of Chinatown's most powerful Tongs (organized crime families). Watch the trailer.

    Saturday Night Live (NBC)
    Saturday, October 4th, 11:30 PM ET/8:30 PM PT (46th season premiere)

    You know the drill. Jim Carrey's Joe Biden and Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump in an election year. I’m excited for Chris Rock’s monologue and to see the show back in Studio 8H.

    Live from New York, it's special guest stars. For the first time ever, the show is producing five episodes in a row leading up to election day. Old man that I am, I'll sleep and watch highlights in the morning.

    The Good Lord Bird (SHOWTIME)
    Sunday, October 5th 9:00 PM (Premiere)

    This one had me at the trailer.

    Ethan Hawke plays abolitionist John Brown in a seven-part series based on James McBride's acclaimed novel. Hawke has been giving excellent performances as he ages, and this one is no exception. He is a force to be reckoned with.

    We know the story, but the sweeping sets and beautiful cinematography make this series feel like a feature film. You'll recognize some of the names from the history books in John Brown's many encounters, but the hero of the story is "Onion," a boy John Brown frees from slavery in early Kansas.

    The evolution of their relationship as John Brown continues his fight is simply marvelous to watch.

    If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

    Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Saturday Night Live, The Good Lord Bird, Monsterland, Warrior, Lorne Michaels