Is “Saturday Night Live” still relevant?

For the last 48 seasons, “Saturday Night Live” has ruled late night television and been a constant in NBC programming. But SNL and its fans are no strangers to repeated criticisms: “It’s too political,” “it was funnier in the ‘70s” or “it was only funny when I watched it.” 

From the show that brought us iconic pop culture sketches and references from Coneheads, to Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, to Debbie Downer and even David Pumpkins, it’s hard to imagine how a show with so many popular moments can turn into something it seems the whole Internet can rally against. With SNL winning Outstanding Variety Sketch Series at the 2022 Emmys, it raised the questions of why show won and, even more importantly, why is the show still on air.

SNL faces the same accusations each year about the show being too political. In 2019, the Hollywood Reporter published a poll about whether or not viewers find the show to be too political. According to the article, “among respondents, 39 percent agreed with the sentiment that the series ‘has gotten too political,’ while 30 percent disagree.” 31% also said that there are too many political sketches in the show.

It’s important to add, though, that these percentages fall along party lines with most Democrats saying the show isn’t too political and most Republicans are the ones saying the show is too political. Even though the show tries to address this accusations, no one is truly happy with the end results. Even creator Lorne Michaels told Forbes in September that he doesn’t believe the show is tougher on one party compared to another.

“The last four years on SNL reflected a period ‘between the pandemic and the presidency’ where ‘people were truly frightened,’” Michaels said.

Even if politics isn’t the problem, people still seem to be losing interest in the show. The first episode of season 48 premiered on Oct. 1 with host Miles Teller, star of the summer blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick”, and musical guest Kendrick Lamar, whose musical genius continues to keep him relevant. The talent was there for the bones of a great episode.

But even with a show lineup like that, NPR reporter Eric Deggans called this first episode a relentlessly average, borderline uninspired season opening episode.” Deggans places most of the blame on the large exodus of eight cast members over the offseason, including Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson and Kyle Mooney. He also labeled this season as a “rebuilding year” for the cast, with four new members stepping up for the 48th season.

Throughout SNL’s 47-year-long run, rebuilding years have not uncommon and it’s not abnormal to see the stars of the show leave to pursue other projects. The show lost stars Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader all within two years of each other in the early 2010s. Yet the show continued to thrive. Michaels and his team found ways to adapt and continued the show like they always have. 

Some fans feel the former cast member’s departures left behind some holes. Despite the devastation many felt during their last episode, it’s important to recognize that no one is trying to be exactly like those eight members who left. Each cast member has their own unique style of comedy and is exactly the right person for the job. So the comparisons to the old members aren’t unnecessary and aren’t fair to the cast members who are there and are still working just as hard. 

Deadline also points out how the exits of past members impacts the newcomers: “But the move means that there are now more opportunities for the newer members, which includes fresh faces Marcello Hernández, Molly Kearney, Michael Longfellow and Devon Walker.” With the show continuing to find its voice with this new group of cast members, it gives the cast the perfect opportunity to shine on their own without the shadow of the bigger names.

With an average of four million viewers on the Oct. 1 season premiere night, that is 900,000 viewers less than season 47’s premiere. It’s hard not to see how SNL might be losing its grip on pop culture and its audience. But in spite of what appears to be evidence of a show falling in ratings, Michaels looked ahead to the upcoming 48th season and is excited to see what comes next for the show. He told “The New York Times”, “This is a year of reinvention. And change is exhilarating.”

Despite what Twitter might be saying or what the ratings are showing, SNL still has an incredibly large fanbase who will continue to watch the show even through the “rebuilding year” and will continue to support the cast members no matter if their favorite is gone. Whether people like it or not, SNL is a giant in the television world and it does not look like the show is going anywhere anytime soon, which is exactly the way it should be.