Tonight marks the debut of the Japan version of Saturday Night Live. It’s not just a coincidental name, they’re advertising it as the new Japanese edition of the American show. While I’m interested enough to give it a watch, I have a few misgivings.
- Rather than starting off with relatively unknown young comics, the cast includes Sanma Akashiya and Koji Imada. It would be harder to find a more established pair of TV insiders short of casting Ken Shimura and Beat Takeshi.
- Japan doesn’t exactly have a tradition of political satire, at least not in major fora like network TV. Watching how most networks avoid stepping on government toes when it comes to investigative journalism, you’d think we were still living in an era where the shogun could go lopping off the heads of any commoners who failed to show the proper respect. There goes a major source of what made the American SNL funny.
- They’re not much better when it comes to satirizing other celebrities, either. The big ad and casting agencies wield tremendous influence over the networks, and they tend to clamp down hard on attempts to make fun of any member of their talent stables. Celebrity satire therefore tends to be limited to very mild impersonations. There goes the other major source of what made the American SNL funny.
- SNL has, with a few exceptions, been one of the only sketch comedy shows on American prime-time network TV for years. Japan, on the other hand, has many shows airing at all hours of the evening that feature comedy in a live-ish setting, where comedians bounce between performing skits and swapping jokes with each other while sitting around the studio. This is a format that Sanma and Imada have worked in for decades, and they’re really going to have to stretch outside their comfort zone to make SNL JPN stand out from the crowd.
That said, it could be good. The first guest host is Takashi Okamura of the comedy team 99, who can truly be creative and funny, while Ken Hirai will be the musical guest. Promotional materials have also mentioned that former PM Junichiro Koizumi will be a special surprise guest at some point (their PR department may need to look up the meaning of ‘surprise’).
For now, Fuji TV is limiting the show to 45-minute episodes once a month, which should help them to work out the bugs and keep the creative juices fresh. I’ll be tuning in later tonight, and I’ll let you know how it went.
[1 hour later]
You know, it wasn’t bad at all. Imada and Okamura did a good job keeping the skits flowing, and they seem to have a solid base of young comedians supporting them. I’ll definitely be looking out for next month’s episode.
However, there was a major weak point in the whole show: Sanma. While Imada and the rest did a decent job of becoming their roles, Sanma basically played his one shtick in every skit, and it brought things to a halt every time, even when he was supposed to be a minor background character.
The 45-minute format with two music breaks gave the show a comedy:music ratio of almost 1:1, which may not be a bad thing.
As I was concerned about earlier, I didn’t see a whole lot that set the show too far apart from other comedy/variety programs. There were hints of it here and there, but they need to keep pushing. Less Sanma would definitely help.
Nearly all of them need to work on not laughing at their own jokes.
Pelting the studio audience with water balloons at the end was certainly different.
My first though a few minutes into the opening was, “I guess we know who the sponsor is.” Coca-cola products and logos were positioned all over the set, and they even worked the name into one of the skits.
Oh well, it has places that need improvement, but I’m willing to stick with it for now.