Pros: Mo Collins, Debra Wilson, Nicole Sullivan, and Michael McDonald
Cons: Can be offensive and repetitive...but no more so than SNL
Saturday Night Live seems to go through cycles, and every few years, there's a big "pull the plug already!" campaign to take Lorne Michaels' life masterpiece off the air. For the last year or so, I've been half-watching SNL, and watching MadTV more and more.
When SNL is at it's best, it's hard to find anything funnier on the air....for about an hour of "clips" per season. You see, even at it's best (and I'd use either the Belsushi-Ackroyd-Radner-Murray years or the Carvey-Hartman-Lovitz-Jackson years for this) the show is VERY hit-and-miss. There are a few reasons why:
1) Biggest problem--the Guest Star each week. Only a few times each season does the Guest Star become an asset to the show--they're usually a hindrance, flubbing lines, forcing the show be centered on them, and just generally being bad actors...which some of them are anyway. The SNL sketches WITHOUT the guest stars are usually funnier than the ones with them.
2) The half hour of commercials per hour of television--maybe it's just my local station, I can't be sure...but for every ten minutes of SNL, there's five minutes of commercials. And that kills me. Especially at that time of night, I'm more likely to get bored with all of the commercials repeating themselves over and over again, and I'll just turn the crud off and go to bed. Or do something else. Like uh, a 1,000 piece puzzle. After a long week, that isn't my idea of unwinding.
3) Crudities spouted by amateur wannabe comedian/actors isn't always comedy-- the current crop of SNL actors is very unfunny. There are three exceptions, and that's only in certain circumstances: Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey in their Weekend Update, and Chris Kattan. Some of the other ladies have their moments, but they're few and far between.
4) They don't know when to stop. Too often with SNL, beating a dead horse takes on an all new meaning, as they take a 3-minute sketch that would have been very funny, and stretch it into an 8-minute monstrosity that's just annoying. Last weekend, Conan O'Brien hosted a sketch that was about the Napster Trials that went on about five minutes too long, and instead of being professional comedy, seemed like the sketches the cheerleaders and Student Body Officers at my highschool would do at pep rallies. Know when to stop. Leave me wanting more. Please.
Sooooo, instead of waiting for an SNL renaissance, my wife and I have made the switch to MadTV. We laugh a lot more, it's only an hour long, and we don't get saddled with the cons of SNL.
Here's what we like about MadTV:
1) No guest stars to slow the main cast down-- there will occasionally be guest stars in the sketches for MadTV, but they'll only be in one sketch per show, and then only in limited use. That frees up the main cast to get their lines right, hit their cues, and build up a funnier sketch with the team they're used to instead of Alec Baldwin struggling to deliver a line. Makes for a more professional, funnier show than SNL.
2) The cast themselves are currently funnier than their SNL counterparts--since both shows have a heavy rotation of actors, this may come and go, but right now, MadTV's cast and the characters they play are much funnier. My favorites:
(A) Michael McDonald. His characters include Stuart, Rusty, Fightin' Ron, and Marvin, and each of them is distinct and completely different from the others. Very different from the one-note capabilities of (drawing from past SNL seasons) David Spade and Chris Farley, who while undeniably funny, only ever did one thing. Drawing these characters from REAL people that you observe makes the MadTV characters much funnier (and scarier) than SNL's broad comedy can ever do.
(B) Mo Collins. This very tall woman is also VERY funny, and is often coupled with McDonald as Stuart's Mom. Too real, too scary, too funny. Other characters include Lorraine, whose throat clearing antics can make me cough up a lung....and Trina, who is a carbon copy of a freak show at my work. She's actually even better than these when she plays the "straight man" for the other routines...she's a real hard-@ss that you really shouldn't be joking with. Which just makes it funnier.
(C) Nicole Sullivan. One of the original cast members, she's been on MadTV for six years, and this blonde bombshell has become The Star of the show for a lot of people. Her characters include the Vancome Lady, Darlene McBride (an all-American and Very Racist Country Singer...and what's more all-American than that?), and Lida, half of a hoochie-mama duo that reminds me of a mall food court.
(D) Debra Wilson. She's also been on the show for years, and is very funny in everything she does. It's nice to see an African American presence, when SNL seems to have a Token Black Person every year...MadTV has several, and she carries every sketch she has. Some of my favorites: Bunifa Shiniqua Latifa Blahblahblah, Melina (the other half of the hoochie mama duo above), Tovah (a Very Large Woman coupled with another one played by Aries Spears...reminds me of some more co-workers...).
A common thread with all of them is that their characters are like people you actually know, just tweaked a little bit. Another common thread is that MadTV is smart enough not to make lame movies about every single one of them. They're able to leave well enough alone and just make good comedic television.
MadTV has also dropped the little insert cartoons, like "Spy Vs. Spy" that they had in the first few years, which makes the show move along faster. They don't have nearly the volume of commercials and self-promotion that SNL has, and it just makes for a more streamlined show to end your week with.
A word of warning, though--this is listed for some oddball reason under "Kid's TV Shows"....MadTV isn't now, and never has been, appropriate for children. A lot of the jokes and characters are sexual in nature, which can be offensive, or can be funny for adults, but I don't want my kids watching it. So maybe I shouldn't be watching it either, setting a good example, eh? But it's no more crude than Saturday Night Live, and is much funnier.
And we don't have any kids, so usually on Saturday Nights, we skip Saturday Night, and go right to MadTV. If it's been a while since you've checked it out, you should tune in again.