Imagine “Saturday Night Live” as a prime-time show doing family entertainment—no swearing, no scenarios that might require some members of a family to leave the room, but still a live weekly performance filled with sketches, parody music videos, wacky returning characters. Oh, and just to make things interesting, the cast are all Mormons.
This is “Studio C,” Brigham Young University TV’s sketch comedy program, currently in its sixth season and incredibly popular on YouTube.
Now listen, you and I both know that right now you’re thinking a show like this is as sweetly naïve, non-edgy and pallid in complexion as a turkey sandwich on white bread where your mom’s cut off the edges. You’re probably expecting plenty of sketches about God, being nice and stilted happy families “catchin’ up” around the dinner table.
But “Studio C” is not the sketch equivalent of two men in white shirts, black ties and nametags ringing your doorbell (although I would totally watch that sketch). While it is indeed always family friendly, and some sketches feel like they could work on Nickelodeon, what makes “Studio C” really interesting is that it regularly finds ways to transcend its PG rating to deliver material that is extremely funny.
Like “Radio Mystery Hour Mayhem,” a bit about an old-timey radio show whose sound effects person is part Kate McKinnon, part Lucille Ball; or the show’s repeated bits with Darth Sidious (a.k.a., the Emperor from “Star Wars”) trying to convince people—like his roommates—to strike him down so that they might become evil. Or their recent “Ultimate Skate Park Disaster” video, which parodies the bizarre urge to do foolish things at skate parks. It has well over two million views. (Also bone crunches that will haunt your dreams.)
Other famous characters pop up repeatedly, like Dobby the House Elf from Harry Potter, or Jason Bourne, as in this fantastic pre-taped segment that I will not explain because it will completely spoil the joke. (Suffice it to say, if you love the Bourne films, you will immediately wonder why no one has done this before. And then you will watch the sketch again.)
“Studio C” is not a religious show. There are no subtle attempts to evangelize, nor any suggestion even that the company are Mormons. And honestly, quite a bit of material on “Studio C” feels like it could be on “S.N.L.,” like the hilarious “Inner City Spelling Bee,” in which two students are asked to spell words like holla and janky; or the show’s tightly composed music videos, including this insane hip-hop piece about angry pregnant mothers or the “Hunger Games Musical,” a trilogy of songs sung by Katniss, Peeta and Gale. (The company’s music videos are worth a look just to admire the talent of their songwriting. These guys can drop a do-wop, rap or piano ballad with equal pizazz.)
The show even offers a couple bits I wish “S.N.L.” would consider doing, like tongue twister sketches in which every time a cast member screws up their lines, the whole scene has to start over. Though “S.N.L.” is shot in front of a live audience, it never really uses that context in the way a typical sketch or improv comedy show does. “Studio C” shows the opportunity that could be there if they would.
Here in the dog days of summer, there’s not a lot of new television on, let alone a lot worth watching. And a Catholic priest recommending a family-friendly sketch show is probably about as appealing as your grandma taking you to a Christian rap concert. “They’re gonna drop beats for your soul, honey.”
All I can say is, you might be surprised. (I was.) Give it a shot.
Jim McDermott, S.J., is America's Los Angeles correspondent.