I am admittedly, a huge fan of Saturday Night Live. I love both the comedy that’s come from it throughout its’ 40 years in existence as well as the intricate framework of how this show operates. When all cylinders are firing, it’s a well-oiled machine that gives us some of the greatest laughs and most interesting fascinations in entertainment. Does it always work? Of course not – but I went into this exciting season premiere excited that all involved would put their best foot forward to open up with a bang.
The stars were literally aligned here – we have a first-time host, Chris Pratt, who is at the top of his game right now with his recent fame in Guardians of the Galaxy and of course, NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Ariana Grande is also at the top of her game, doing very well for herself and her music in 2014. After a season of “experimenting to see what sticks” with a very large cast of 17 and the departure of Seth Meyers for Late Night, the recent cast shake-ups bring us some changes I’m pretty psyched about. Cecily Strong has departed from the Weekend Update desk to appear in sketches more, now bringing in Michael Che, to be paired with head writer Colin Jost. So we have our first pair of men and our first African-American Update anchor. How cool! We also have added 21-year-old Pete Davidson, NY stand-up comedian as a featured player to the cast. The esoteric Mike O’Brien has returned to the writers room away from the cast, Nasim Pedrad departed to work on Fox’s Mulaney, and we also lost featured players Noel Wells, John Milheiser, and Brooks Wheelan, who didn’t get too much time to prove themselves last year.
So with a solid cast now assembled, how did last night’s premiere go? Is this a bit much to assess a simple comedy show? Well, I have a website, I review movies, and I like SNL – so I’m gonna do it anyway. (You all have your Thursday night ABC shows, so let me have this.) On we go to the SNL 40th Season premiere!
COLD OPEN: RAY RICE (Bryant, Pratt, Thompson, Pharoah)
First, it was great to see how excited Aidy Bryant must have been to be opening up this season of SNL. Then, out of nowhere, we got Jay Pharoah’s Shannon Sharpe! It’s been too long.Of course, we had to have an opening addressing some of the recent news in the NFL. This wasn’t the most memorable cold open to address a major sports news story, and there’s no way they weren’t going to do this one with as much coverage as its’ been getting. While it did have just enough comedy and material to parody the situation (i.e. Kenan and that doggone bus to avert the issue), it didn’t completely dig its’ teeth into the issue either. But for what it had to be, it was fine.
CHRIS PRATT MONOLOGUE (Pratt, Faris)
Pratt is pretty charming here! He pulled out his guitar to sing a nice little song to share how excited he is to be here. I always enjoy that kind of fresh energy in a first-time host. You can tell this was a long-time dream of his, because he was both ecstatic and nervous. That’s okay! I look forward to the confidence he’ll have when he comes back. And hey, there’s Anna Faris!
CIALIS TURNT (Killam, Strong, Bryant, Bennett)
I feel like this sketch was written for the hyperactive playa in me who loves Turn Down For What. This definitely feels like something I would have thought of, found funny, and been ridiculed for – and I mean that in the best of ways. It’s good that this didn’t go on too long, because the joke is really over after Turn Down for What hits. Not the most memorable thing ever, but we got to see some bling hanging from Taran Killam’s crotch, so…there’s that.
HE-MAN AND LION-O (Mooney, Bryant, Killam, Pratt, Strong, Grande)
At first, when He-Man & Lion-O showed up, I was so excited to see what might happen. So many chances for good comedy, and – nope. Just a missed opportunity in which they slapped their crotches & ran with that as a running gag instead. Then, suddenly, the sketch just up and ended. If you change the material between the toys becoming real and Aidy Bryant’s mom character returning, you might have had something better here – including better use of Ariana Grande dressed as She-Ra.
VET OFFICE (Strong, McKinnon, Pratt, Bayer, Moynihan, Mooney)
At least this was…short? Look, I didn’t like this sketch the first time it aired on Josh Hutcherson’s show last fall, and I never expected to see it again. This one seemed less memorable than the first one, especially not having actual live animals or my favorite forgettable cast member around (Brooks Wheelan) this time. However, the one thing I remember is the pun “birdered.” (I’m a sucker for puns.)
MARVEL TRAILER (Pratt, Bryant, Pharoah, Moynihan, Killam, Bennett, Mooney)
Best parts of this: Marvel’s Star Wars, Bobby Moynihan’s long hair as a stormtrooper, A Harlem Globetrotter, a guy dressed as Grimace, and especially Marvel’s Pam 2: The Winter Pam.” As a sendup to Marvel superhero movies, this was pretty good. It’s notable that Aidy Bryant was having a great night. (I would totally watch “Marvel’s Pam 2: The Winter Pam.”
WEEKEND UPDATE (Jost, Che, Strong, Jones, Davidson, Thompson)
Che was nervous at first (to be expected!) but not only did he bounce back fast, he bounced back like a pro who’s been behind the chair for a good few weeks. Jost even looked a little glassy-eyed at first, but that also seemed to go away quickly. Their jokes about “hiding your nudes in this U2 album” and the Orange is the New Black realizing she’s gay from working on the women’s prison scenes “but this reminded me that I definitely am not” were my favorites from them. And hey, it sure didn’t take Cecily Strong long to show up to Update! She reprised her old character as the first walk-on, which was smart of SNL to do to show the audience “see, it’s all good.”
We even got the return of writer Leslie Jones! She talked about being single, flirted with Colin (her marshmallow) and basically reminded America why she’s good at what she does. Then, as I predicted, new cast member Pete Davidson came on as himself to introduce himself to America. And boy did he nail this – I liked when Brooks Wheelan did this last year, but man, I have to admit how much more memorable this was. The subject matter takes a major left turn FAST, for sure – but his relaxed delivery & confidence just sells the whole thing. It’s obvious that SNL wants this guy to be their next big thing, and he enjoyed every second behind that desk with Che.
Finally, Jost and Che’s “Cheer Up, President Obama!” with Kenan singing “Ooh, Child” clinched it for me. Not only was it fun, original, and hilarious – it was the first sign of “these two anchors have great cohesion together” that we’ve seen behind the Update desk in quite some time. (I’d love to see a sign for “Barack OGanges” on a billboard in Colorado one day.) Weekend Update was clearly the best part of the night.
BOOTY RAP (Bryant, Pratt, Strong, Bayer, Zamata, McKinnon, Mooney, Moynihan, Bennett)
Oh look, Vanessa Bayer and Sasheer! Good to finally see them. Anyway, the sketch right after Update always worries me because most of last year (maybe always?) this spot would go to something one-note, forgettable, and underwhelming. I’m not 100% sure what to do with this one, just based on concept. The execution was fine (Bryant sells it, and for all I know, she wrote this sketch), but I don’t know…something about flirting with someone simply with the use of one horny song doesn’t show clever material, it reminds me of how much today’s music sucks.
BAD BOYS (Mooney, Bennett, Pratt)
Beck Bennett & Kyle Mooney get another shot at getting last year’s Wing sketch that didn’t make it to air on the Andrew Garfield show. Also set in the 90s, except this time Chris Pratt allows himself to make new friends with some young, punk kids. They’re the wrong crowd, but Pratt goes with it to find his place until a kid pulls a gun on Pratt until he steals Beck Bennett’s ball to play with. Just writing that out makes me laugh. I mean – this is probably the ONLY time seeing a kid pull a gun on someone will be funny. And I appreciate that the Mooney/Bennett pre-recorded sketches get a little better than the 10-to-1 slot this time. It’s great to have these guys and their brand of comedy back in both live and pre-recorded sketches – and finally, thanks for the random cutaway shot of the castle.
NFL INTROS (Bennett, Killam, Thompson, Moynihan, Pharoah, Pratt, Mooney, Che, Davidson, Jost, Jones)
Hey, we even got to see Che and Jost in a sketch! This was a fine sketch with pretty good, well-written jokes. First, I laughed when Jost confesses to tax fraud, looking like the innocent do-gooder of the NFL. Then Kenan admits to hitting his wife, and no one laughed. So I was nervous…until Leslie Jones showed up as the wife who hit him back. That alone launched things into a whole new era of great.
VIDEO GAME (Bayer, Pratt, Killam, Zamata, Davidson, Moynihan, Thompson)
3 people must help field test a simple puzzle solving game that consistently resolves in the couple taking you through the game making out & making the testers uncomfortable. This is that special brand of weird that only Vanessa Bayer can bring to the table – and it works purely on execution.
Best Sketch of the Night: Weekend Update
Worst Sketch of the Night: Animal Hospital
Joke of the Night: TIE between:
Pete Davidson: “I’m not gay, I’m just a businessman…If you don’t go down on a guy for a million dollars, you obviously don’t care about your family.”
Kenan Thompson: [NFL Intro] I hit my wife. …
Leslie Jones: And I’m his wife – I hit him BACK!!!
(Runner Up: “Marvel’s Pam 2: The Winter Pam”)
Conclusion: A few standouts, a few good-but-forgettable sketches, and a couple “how did this make it to air?” sketches. Weekend Update is off to a great start this year with Che & Jost. Pete Davidson is going to be a breakout star pretty soon. Aidy Bryant continues to climb the ladder of stardom. The show remains consistent in one way, and I think Quagmire on Family Guy said it best: “Some women are like SNL sketches. Most are all right…some are just awful…then there’s that one…that special one…” However, things feel like they’re off to a much more solid start than last year! It’ll be interesting to see where this continues to go.
BLACKOMETER AVERAGE: 6.54
Next week: Sarah Silverman!