Look, I do give Saturday Night Live a little credit for addressing the recent controversy over its lack of diverse casting in a pretty funny opening sketch during this week’s Kerry Washington-hosted episode. It even had a more resounding effect than perhaps intended, bringing up the show’s total absence of black female cast members, then reminding us of it with every sketch featuring its woman-of-color host. The writers seem to have tackled the issue by specifically asking themselves, “How would we make fun of this if it were someone else?” The pissed-off-Beyonce-in-a-bathrobe image (implied but never seen) toward the end of the cold open gave it a nice, funny kick, and the jokey apology message even played well at first: “The producers of Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight … because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent and also because ‘SNL’ does not currently have a black woman in the cast.”
Yep, I was on board with this as a cutesy mea culpa of sorts until it went on too long: “As for the latter reason, we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future…unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.” I know this is supposed to just be poking fun, and also trying to show how cool and rebellious and independent SNL is (You know, “We’re not gonna let the audience boss us around because we’re artists“). But it cut the self-laceration by at least half, and maybe even by three quarters. Five-sixths? A lot.
“Lampshading” is one of my favorite and least favorite writer tricks: It’s where you acknowledge a shortcoming in your plot through some dialogue, usually jokey, as a way of winking at the audience and moving on. Yes, I know this is a giant hole in my story, but I couldn’t come up with a solution, so let’s have characters make a meta-statement on it, and we’ll all feel clever then, because meta is fancy. An inoffensive lampshade would be when, say, Lost characters toward the end of season 1 remark on how strange it is that none of those other background people on the island seem to do much except follow the main characters from beach to cave and back again. An annoying lampshade would be if someone on Lost during the final season said, “Hey, too bad none of these plot strands that people have dedicated their entire lives to decoding will never amount to anything. Talk about lost! Ha ha!” Of course, no one really did that, but it wasn’t because it wasn’t true.
Back to the current, more socially relevant controversy: Saturday Night Live has now acknowledged, through its own sketch, that its producers know it has a diversity problem. Now they need to figure out a way to not fall in love with another white guy, because we’re onto them.