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FunBITS: SNL for iPhone Brings 40 Years of Laughs

For over 40 years, Saturday Night Live (SNL) has been television’s premiere showcase of comedic talent. Though the show has had many ups and downs, its sheer persistence has generated a treasure trove of memorable moments.

To celebrate SNL’s 40th anniversary, NBC has released the free SNL app for the iPhone, showcasing some of the show’s best moments. The SNL app requires iOS 8 or later.

When you first open the app, you’re prompted to link it to your Facebook account. Unfortunately, the app is tightly tied to Facebook, both to save your preferences and to share content. You can use the app without Facebook, but you will lose some functionality, like the favorites list.

The app also asks you to identify your favorite era of SNL: Current-Early 10’s, Late 00’s, Early 00’s-Late 90’s, Early 90’s, Late 80’s, Early 80’s, and Late 70’s. If you don’t have a preference for a specific era, you can skip the question entirely.

The main app interface is split into two sections: Watch and Explore. The Watch section shows a continuous stream of auto-playing SNL clips that can you swipe through. (Ads are displayed below the video in portrait orientation.) If you set a favorite era, the selected clips lean heavily toward that era. Otherwise, it shows the most recent clips. If you linked the app to Facebook, swiping up on a clip posts it to Facebook, while swiping down adds it to your favorites list. Adding favorites also changes which clips are displayed in the Watch

Frustratingly, you can share clips only via a Facebook post, and only via the built-in method. Standard sharing options are not offered, and you can’t even share a clip via a private Facebook message.

Another annoyance is that the video player is nonstandard. There’s no way to scrub through a sketch; you can only restart it from the beginning. Nor can you hide the controls manually. Tapping anywhere on the video plays or pauses it, so you have to wait a few seconds for the controls to fade away. Not surprisingly, AirPlay is not supported. However, one nice touch is that you can always swipe to the next sketch, even in the landscape mode that fills the screen.

What’s impressive is how much metadata is available for each sketch. Tap the Info button to see who appeared in the sketch, which episode it appeared in, and even tags for the sketch. Tapping any of these data points searches the SNL database for sketches related to the person, tag, or episode.

Hardcore SNL fans will appreciate the Explore tab, which lets you browse and search for sketches. There you can flip through all 40 seasons, seeing the cast and episode list for each. Tap a cast member to see all of that person’s available sketches, or tap an episode to see all available sketches from that episode.

I say “available” intentionally. There are large gaps in which few sketches are available. Surprisingly, the gaps are mostly in the 1970s, often considered the golden age of the show. Many episodes have nothing listed. It’s even stranger considering that most episodes from the dreadful early 1980s (when Lorne Michaels was absent) have many clips available.

But unless you go digging, those gaps will mostly go unnoticed. The SNL app offers around 5,500 sketches, totaling over 300 hours of content. You won’t have trouble finding your favorite sketches, thanks to the SNL app’s powerful search engine.

But the SNL app is limited to just sketches. Don’t expect musical performances or full episodes. Despite there being a Full Episodes section, you will not find full SNL episodes in the SNL app. Tapping an episode there redirects you to the NBC app, which requires activation through a TV provider.

The SNL Exclusive Video section is a bit more interesting. It features a handful of sketches that were cut from the show, and sometimes they’re funnier than what made it on. We can hope that NBC will add more.

The most unexpected feature of the SNL app is that it includes its own emoji keyboard. To enable it, go to Settings > General > Keyboards > Add New Keyboards, and select SNL Emoji Keyboard — SNL. You will also need to enable Full Access by selecting the keyboard after it’s enabled and turning on Allow Full Access.

What’s the point? The SNL keyboard offers a number of glyphs, each representing an SNL gag, that you can enter wherever you can type. Some are amusing, but most require an encyclopedic knowledge of the show — even friends who are SNL fans often don’t get the jokes.

Weird keyboard aside, I love the SNL app — it’s a free, easily browsable archive of SNL history. How could any SNL fan pass that up? And if you haven’t tuned in to SNL in years, or perhaps have never seen it, the app is a great way cherry pick some of the best comedy sketches of all time.

But I have to ask. Why is the SNL app limited to the small iPhone screen? It’s not entirely — the app runs on the iPad in pixel-doubled mode, and watching videos in landscape orientation on the iPad is a better experience. But without AirPlay capability, there’s no way to watch the sketches on a big screen with friends or family. SNL clips are available on the Web and Apple TV via Yahoo Screen, but that collection isn’t nearly as focused as the SNL app. AirPlay would be a start, but SNL makes me wish that the Apple TV had proper apps.

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