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Twitch chat makes Saturday Night Live way better, and answers a decade old question

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Can appointment TV be a thing again?

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Saturday Night Live is funny, but it’s not cool.

It’s actually kind of lame. The jokes are corny, and it’s not the cultural staple it was in the ‘70s, ‘90s and early ‘00s. But SNL is fun, and it’s still something I watch every week. Only now I watch Saturday Night Live on Sunday mornings (Sunday Morning Taped, as one friend refers to it) bringing up the latest episode from Hulu’s search menu and scarfing down a toasted sesame seed bagel while I watch the sketches from the night before.

We watch SNL differently now. We’re not crowding our friends’ apartments or bars to catch the sketches as they happen. We’re content to half heartedly scroll through Twitter, open a Vanity Fair article recapping the best of the night at 1:30 in the morning and then continue doing whatever other unimportant activity we spent our Saturday night on instead. Saturday Night Live is still important, and I’m glad it’s around, but it’s not the cultural focal point we celebrated it as more than four decades ago.

The way we watch television changes all the time, and Twitch chat is one of the few engaging ways left to watch something.

Twitch chat has the unique ability to make something far worse or better depending on the situation and those involved. People can crowd the rapidly moving dialogue box to spew their own hateful comments or harass other people. It’s a known problem on Twitch, and one that no one can quite figure out how to solve. Sometimes, though, there are moments like Saturday Night Live or a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers marathon where Twitch chat comes together to enjoy a television show and provide their own biting commentary. An actor like Daniel Radcliffe, best known for playing Harry Potter, can appear on screen and Twitch chat turns into a steady stream of instantaneous reactions, references to other popular jokes and genuine appreciation for what’s playing out on screen.

Twitch chat SNL
Twitch chat’s reaction to Daniel Radcliffe appearing on a sketch.
Twitch

Suddenly Saturday Night Live and television-at-large is communal again. The excitement over seeing a zany sketch for the first time, and experiencing that with other people, died out in the mid-’00s. People stopped watching SNL at 11:30 p.m; we turned to YouTube in the morning in hopes of watching the best sketch of the night, or relying on Variety’s detailed description to get us through — until it wound up on YouTube a couple of days later. NBC eventually started uploading individual sketches to YouTube, and Hulu streamed the entire episode a day after it aired. Sure, we could gauge reaction to a sketch by scrolling through YouTube comments or checking Twitter, but that took additional effort.

Those reactions, although interesting, felt stale. They already happened. The moment passed.

Twitch chat reinvigorates the jokes. It’s like attending a live comedy show or being in the audience. Everyone is laughing at the same time, pointing to the best moments in unison. Twitch chat becomes just as fun, and funnier, than the actual sketches playing out. I found myself watching so many sketches through the eyes of chat instead of the sketch by itself. I can’t recall the last time Saturday Night Live felt as relevant as it did watching old sketches with thousands of strangers. The irony of which is not lost on me.

Watching Saturday Night Live on Twitch makes me wish NBC co-streamed SNL on Twitch Saturday night. It will never happen. NBC isn’t going to co-stream the show with anyone, of course, and Hulu will forever remain the network’s partner as long as NBCUniversal owns a part in the streaming company. But watching SNL on Twitch helped to remember just how universal of an experience this show used to be, and why it made such an impact on so many people back in the day of appointment television.

I could have watched these skits on my own. Hunted them down on YouTube and let them play on autoplay. I could have set aside a day to watch Saturday Night Live’s latest season on Hulu. I checked in on Twitch’s SNL marathon because curiosity got the better of me. I stayed because Twitch chat rejuvenated sketches I haven’t thought about for years.

Just imagine if we could figure out similar experiences for all TV series? Maybe appointment TV could become a thing again.