My friend Ryan, who lives in Michigan for some reason, texted me around 9 p.m. to tell me that Saturday Night Live was doing a Serial parody. Ryan and I had talked earlier about Serial, in particular that boneheaded tweet that Best Buy had posted about payphones. Ryan thought that the Serial-related tweet that Sesame Street posted was okay.
That Slate article agreed, but I wasn’t into it. Even if Sesame Street historically pushes puns and makes fun of current trends regardless of whether they’re kid friendly, this was a dumb little throwaway joke. To me, it only existed to make people say, “Hey! It’s that thing I know! In that other thing I know! I’m in on this!” But the 5,000-something Twitter users to retweeted it clearly liked it.
I feel similarly about SNL’s Serial sketch, which has Sarah Koenig investigating Santa Claus. On a technical level, it’s spot-on, if you can overlook the awkwardness of transforming a podcast into something that suddenly has a a video element. But the sketch didn’t make me laugh. Again, all the people who introed it on Facebook with “LOL!” felt differently. Here’s the sketch, in case you didn’t see it already because you’re that rare bird who has only a casual relationship with Serial.
Cecily Strong’s Koenig is pretty good, and Aidy Bryant takes Christina Gutierrez’s inexplicable sing-song speech patterns to weird, new heights, but I didn’t get much out of the sketch even though I’ve spent the last twelve weeks turning the Serial story over and over in my head. Now, I realize there are worse problems than having an SNL sketch not work for you, but as I keep seeing the sketch on social media — including a post from an L.A. NPR station that dubbed the parody “brilliant” — I keep wondering why I didn’t like it. Maybe it just wasn’t that funny. Maybe it just wasn’t funny to me.
Or maybe it’s that that girl is still dead.
I know, that’s so self-righteous of me, if not full-blown hypocritical, considering how much mileage I’ve gotten out of a certain person who was devoured by raccoons. But I honestly think it’s awkward and a little tacky to take all the trappings of Serial and lay them over a silly Christmas story. When I was watching the sketch, I thought about Adnan, the convicted murderer who is maybe innocent and we still don’t really know what happened there, watching the Santa Claus-as-Adnan character and thinking, “Oh, that’s me. Huh.” I thought about Hae Min Lee’s little brother explaining on Reddit the difference between a soapy crime drama and a shitty thing that actually happened and actually ruined a few people’s lives.
I’m not saying that Serial, as a pop cultural property, should be off-limits. Law & Order ripped straight from the headlines, as we were told, for years without too much blowback. Besides, this same SNL had a Weekend Update joke about the podcast that I liked. (Seriously, there is a white person out there who thinks he knows a lot about Baltimore just from The Wire and Serial.) The Funny or Die Serial parody even offered commentary on one of the fundamental problems of treating the subject matter like a fictional narrative: real-life situations often don’t have tidy, satisfying endings. But I had similar weird feelings about the Black Dahlia character in the first season of American Horror Story, and I’m thinking there’s a line that exists somewhere in my head that I don’t want pop culture to cross, because then the actual tragedy creeps in and that’s all I can think about.
And that’s probably the most selfish part of all: I want to enjoy my entertainment without the threat of real-life tragedy diminishing my pleasure and making me feel the slightest bit opportunistic.
For what it’s worth, the SNL sketch that worked best for me this week starred raccoons but didn’t make me think of the horrible thing that happened in my neighborhood. It was also the strangest and the least rooted in any kind of relevance or reality.
Cecily said “I get to yum-yum garbage”! Now that’s funny.