Saturday Night Live RapeWatch: Drew Barrymore Edition

It’s another amazingly clean week for SNL – absolutely no homophobia jokes, and a rape joke so incredibly borderline that I’m not even going to count it. It came during a sketch about the media’s obsession with high-profile sex scandals, and the premise was that someone had come up with a 1-10 scale to rule on the severity of these scandals. David Letterman would be a 2, while Roman Polanski would be a 9 (or a European 4).

That’s the whole joke. And since it’s really more of a shot at a perceived European tolerance for deviance, and not actually about the rape he committed, I’m not counting it as an official ‘rape joke’. It's really more about xenophobia than statutory rape, so that’s two weeks out of three that have been absolutely clean. Okay, not clean, but rape and homophobia-free.

Please let them manage another two clean shows in a row.

Since there’s nothing objectionable about the episode this week, I want to take a second to address just how terrible things have gotten over at SNL. No, I’m not talking about the silent-as-death audience reaction to the opening Obama sketch, and how it proved conclusively that SNL can’t deliver an even halfway passable sketch with only 36 hours of notice, no, I’m talking about Gilly.

For those unfamiliar, Gilly is a character regularly played by Kristen Wiig, a little girl who does awful things in a classroom, while an overly permissive teacher does a terrible choice of controlling her. SNL has always featured a great number of recurring characters, but Gilly is perfectly representative of one of their absolutely worst tendencies – the recurring sketch.

While all recurring characters bring a certainly degree of repetitiveness to their sketches, in a well-written show, such as Kids in the Hall, the sketches they appear in can be completely different each time. Think about the most recurring characters on that show – Buddy Cole and the Secretaries. Despite the fact that their sketches always addressed similar subject matter, and in the case of Buddy, followed a static format, the sketches themselves were incredibly varied, featuring a new story about those characters each time. The Temp’s Last Day bore no real resemblance to The New Girl, other than the fact that it starred the secretaries, and the audience had some good reason to expect how the characters were likely to react to this new situation.

Compare that to the ‘Gilly’ sketch, where nothing ever changes. It’s the same setting, the same characters, the same jokes. The fat guy is always timid, the black guy is always in casts, and the girl always tries to tattle. The only thing that changes from sketch to sketch are the specific ways in which Gilly is cruel to her classmates and teacher. They’re not using the same characters every week, they’re using the same script.

It’s a perfect example of how not to do a recurring character, and SNL has been doing it for 35 years.

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