Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I Don't Like Kristen Wiig

Anybody that follows my twitter on a Saturday Night (and why wouldn't you? I use it so much this blog has fallen into disuse) knows that I am a die-hard SNL fan. I've been following the show live since 2002 (I was 16) and aside from a few isolated shows in the early, pre-Hulu years, I've never missed an episode. I've also seen the vast majority of the 90s shows and a smattering of shows from the 70s and 80s. Even so I don't claim to know what's funny and what's not. There are tons of sketches I think are hilarious that most others probably don't, and I'm sure it works vice versa.

That all being said, I've noticed a growing trend in the show that I find somewhat disappointing, giving its legacy of top-tier, groundbreaking humor: lazy, annoying, recurring characters. And the woman most responsible for these characters is presented to you stage left: Kristen Wiig. Now Wiig is not the first performer to fall into this trap. Both well known alums Chris Farley and Molly Shannon had characters with similar personalities that they ended up running into the ground. Current cast-member Fred Armisen is starting to fall into this category as well (as tends to happen after being on the show for 8 years). However not one single cast-member continues to bring out the same, annoying characters, week after week, for a decent chunk of show time.

Now before I'm accused of bias, I don't hate Kristen Wiig. I actually liked her for her first 3 years on the show (she joined in 2005). I think she's pretty funny in pretty much anything she does outside of SNL. But in the early days of her tenure, she meshed well with the rest of the women and cast. She had some great sketches like the awkward carpool with Alec Baldwin and the Two A-holes sketches with Jason Sudeikis. However, once the veteran women performers Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler left the show, things began to change. Wiig had slowly began to build up a small arsenal of characters that, while funny the first time, wouldn't work as recurring sketches because the characters fail to have any potential for further development. The ones that did have potential were simply reused in the same situation over and over again to the point where any shred of originality ceases to exist the third time they use the character.

Let me illustrate with some examples. Some of Wiig's more popular characters include the Target Lady, Penelope, Sue (the "surprise!" woman), Gilly ("sorry!"), and lesser used but still tired Shana. All of these characters feature Wiig in a somewhat silly costume using a weird voice. Wiig is hardly the first SNL player to use this to generate her humor (Adam Sandler, anyone?), and all of these characters work well on a solitary basis. The characters also feature an easily recognizable quote, and Wiig is often the sole star (or acts like it) of the sketch, with anyone else rotating in and out of supporting roles to her maniacal whims. It's fun the first time around.

Unfortunately, we get these characters several different times. And each time, the audience already knows what's going to happen because the writers (or Wiig) do nothing to further the character beyond her one amusing quirk. The Target Lady will always wander off for a bargain. Penelope will always try and one-up the other characters. Sue will eventually do something crazy before she spills the surprise. and Gilly (sorry!) will always end up killing or seriously injuring the other students. There is no change of scenery, no different characters, no progress from sketch to sketch. It's as if time stands still. In the Shana sketches, the same three guys are always attracted to her bubbly and sexual way of speaking, only to be immediately grossed out whenever she actually does anything. Over and over again. As a viewer I'm not supposed to know the outcome of the sketch, yet every time I see one of Wiig's characters, I do.

This is not solely a Wiig problem. Lots of recurring characters suffer this same problem with the current show and writing staff. But Wiig is a repeat offender given her perceived popularity, general hammy-ness, and shear number of characters.

Wiig's popularity spike has also caused her to be the go-to female for writers, despite the continued presence and rotation of other females in and out of the show. Since 2007, with the departure of Maya Rudolph, 4 different women (Casey Wilson, Michaela Watkins, Jenny Slate, and Abby Elliott) have rotated in and out of the show without making much on impact. It seems like these women were routinely passed over for roles that were give to the more mundane Wiig characters. Abby Elliott has been on the show for THREE years and I have no idea if she even has a single character. Sure, some of this is because Wiig is a strong female lead, but both Wilson and Watkins had star potential as well. Wiig performed well in a group with other strong women before, now she simply dominates over everyone else, including the men. There is simply no reason why this should be the case.

SNL has been due for a revolution for awhile. There are many funny, talented people on the show, but something just hasn't been clicking for the last few years (save the spike of awesomeness during the 2008 election year). It is unfair to put the blame solely on Wiig, but as the most prominent cast-member with such blatantly bland, poorly-written characters... she definitely gets the lions share of it.

On the plus side, Nasim Pedrad is pretty funny.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LOST: Live Together, Die Together

Obvious warning: Here be SPOILERS.

Hello, blog. It's been awhile but I think I have something that I can talk about for more than 140 characters. Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you are aware that the LOST finale aired on Sunday night, causing millions of people to stop what they were doing and watch a show that most people haven't seen since season 3 (not that I blame them, season 3 was pretty bad). Milestone claims aside, I think it's safe to say that this finale was probably one of the most anticipated and hyped television events in the last decade, if not ever. For those of us who were not sucked in the show first started, myself included ("a bunch of people stuck on an island? lame"), we were pulled in by the friend who had "just bought the first season" or had the burning desire to know just what was in that hatch that everyone was talking about. It was addicting and consuming, but at times lost its way and jumped around more times than the survivors did when the Island started jumping around in time. I survived until then end, so before I take you into my thoughts on the finale, I figured I'd give you some insight on my investment as a fan.

I first caught on to the show via a first season DVD set that my college roommates had acquired, and began watching the show live midway through the second season. I don't know what I would have done if I had to wait a summer to find out what was in the hatch. At the time I was a firm believer that the show shouldn't head past a third season out of fear that it would grow stale. I mean, they have to get off the Island some time, right? Of course, six seasons in and I was still watching. Maybe I wasn't as invested once everyone started leaving the Island ("We have to go back!"), but I still wanted to know how the damn thing was going to end.

That being said I think we can break LOST up into two distinct chunks, and I think the chunk you prefer dictates the type of fan you are. The first chunk consists of seasons 1-3, and is mostly concerned with on-Island activities and character development. I also call this chunk the "Walt-relevant" period as during this part of the show, there's a kid named Walt who is kind of special and might be the key to a lot of things. During this period we learn about our main characters as well as the other people on the island, and we delve a little into some science-explainable Island mysteries (electromagnetism, Dharma, sonic fences, jamming beacons, etc). The second chunk consists of seasons 4-6, and is primarily concerned with off-Island developments as well as learning more about the Island itself as opposed to the characters on it. The actor playing Walt has aged 10 years overnight so he's written out of the story, and the science-explainable events give way to science-fantasy (time displacement, ageless guardians, mythological games and rules, moving Islands, etc). Obviously there is bleed over between the two sections (there's always a smoke monster around, and Daniel Faraday is metaphysical theory incarnate), but I think this is a solid place to generally split the show. The first jarring realization that the show is much bigger than it is in season 3 is the reveal of the flashforwards (not to be confused with the poser show of the same name), which show that the characters will get off the Island, but for whatever reason will desperately want to return. I think it's important to be able to take in and accept both of these elements of the show in order to fully appreciate the finale.

yes ladies, this man-on-man action has been brewing for awhile.

For the record I think I've enjoyed both parts equally. I was on board with season 4's mass slaughter of secondary characters related to seasons 1-3, I was on board with season 5's crazy time travel, and I was on board with season 6's humanization of Jacob and the Man in Black. And I've long accepted that I'll never really know why the Others kidnapped random people or why Walk caused birds to crash into his window. I accepted that I'd never really know why Jacob doesn't age and why if he touches people, he give s them a gift. I've accepted those things for what they are, and I didn't expect to hear Ben say "by the way this is why we were douchebags to you guys for three seasons" while they were on the way to defeating the Man in Black in the finale. I didn't expect to get those kind of answers.

Overall, I was pleased with the finale and it certainly elicited the emotions in me that I'm sure the writers were going for. It was nice seeing everyone together again at the end and it presented a good message of hope and the importance of friendship, and that it was the journey that everyone went on that brought them close together. I liked that Desmond, always my favorite character on the show, was the catalyst for bringing everyone together in the alternate reality and for enabling the on-Island defeat of the Man in Black. And I loved the image of Vincent being the last thing that Jack saw, tying in with him being the first thing he saw on arrival to the Island way back all those years before.

But on reflection I can't help but feel a little cheated by the obvious deus ex machina of the whole thing, as well as how much the closing narrative relied on Jack. Jack has always been the central character of the show, there's no denying that, but having all the characters wait around for Jack to finally decide to wake up kind of lessened their importance. Making the alternate timeline just a metaphorical purgatory put into question what, if anything, the survivors had accomplished at the end of season 5 when Juliet detonated the H-bomb. It invalidates all of Daniel Faraday's theories about changing the future and the sacrifices made my him and others involved. Furthermore, having Christian Shephard say that "everyone was dead", while technically true, really lessened the on-Island events of the exact same episode. Sure it was nice seeing Jack save the day and watching the plane leave with Hurley in charge of the Island, but this scene basically says "what happens after that isn't important, they all died at some point which doesn't matter and now you're here." Well, sure everyone dies eventually, I guess, but then why did it matter that I just invested myself in watching these people survive? Why does it matter if the plane leaves or not, or if Sun and Jin die on the sub, if everyone dies eventually? It just puts a damper on all the tension that was felt up until that point.

"Yes, I died. We all died. The Island looks like it sucked, but I drank myself to death and am here anyway, so... maybe next time you won't have to do all that."

Bringing it back to my point about the two chunks of the series, the finale is not a finale for the Island and the second half of the show, but more for the characters we fell in love with in the first chunk. All of the Island developments past season 3 were put aside in favor of uniting our characters for a happy ending, so much so that I found myself caring less and less what was happening on the Island and more about what was happening in the alternate timeline as the finale went on. I felt like it was leading up to some grand unification between the two, where the characters in one timeline would absorb the consciousnesses of the other, which would ultimately put the fate of the Island to rest. This payoff never came, and while I was satisfied with the emotional denouement of the series as a whole, I was left with a feeling of "that's it?" for the on-Island timeline. I don't think I ever got the sense of urgency from the whole "don't let MIB off the Island!" mission, as opposed to the "stop the Others from killing us all, prevent the Swan station from exploding and killing as all, prevent the freighter from killing us all" missions of finales past. It was never really explained what he would do if he left and why it was bad, and by the time they hinted at it (very late in the season in "Across the Sea", the 3rd to last epiosde), I cared more about the alternate timeline with Desmond awakening people. I know in the end this was the writers' intention, but ultimately I was left with a feeling that nothing on the Island mattered, it was more about the journey. And while that's a nice way to cap off the character arcs, I feel like it really downplays the importance of the Island itself as a character.

All of that being said I teared up like a baby when Vincent laid down next to Jack. Image-wise it was a very fitting end to a roller-coaster show. And that's not to mention the whole Juliet/Sawyer scene. Sunuvabitch.
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