I think it hit me at the fifth sketch of the night, the clever little gameshow, “New Cast Member or Arcade Fire?” The set was instantly familiar, since it’s pretty much the same one they use for all of these things. And then out came…Kenan Thompson to play the host. Now, it’s not like that’s never happened before, and it’s not like the sight of Kenan Thompson is shocking for anyone who’s been watching Saturday Night Live these past ten years. But still, Bill Hader’s gone, guys! No longer will he be able to put his weird little spin on the most meaningless of parts! And Fred’s gone, too! And Jason! We had just fallen in love with “Maine Justice”! What the hell are we going to do now?
I’m sorry, it’s just the first show is always the hardest. I’m sure I’ll have collected myself by next week (although Miley Cyrus is hosting that one, so maybe not). And I want to make it clear that I think Kenan actually did a great job in the Hader role. He was even better as Ree D’What, hosting Cinema Classics. SNL is not about to fall off a cliff. It’s going to be okay.
The season premiere started slowly but surely, with the political cold open focusing on Obamacare and featuring a bunch of jokes about Americans being dummies and a Taran Killam Ted Cruz impression (was it accurate? I don’t really know). Aaron Paul came by to save the day with a handy Breaking Bad analogy re: healthcare. Jay Pharoah’s Obama impression seems to have gotten even more technically proficient. There was at least one new cast member in the cold open and I got nervous, because I remembered that SNL hired five white guys (and one white lady!) and I am going to struggle to tell them apart the first few weeks.
Host Tina Fey (a nice, safe choice for what could have been a rocky premiere) gently mocked the new hires with their first dumb dance routine—clever reference, but the “dumb dance routine” is my least favorite kind of opening monologue, so I quickly forgot it. Then there was a Girls spoof, which honestly had me a little baffled. You’re spoofing Girls now? Two seasons in, while the show is off the air? If it’s because they think Noel Wells does a killer Lena Dunham, well, no comment (Vanessa Bayer slayed as Shoshanna, who’s right in her wheelhouse). Fey bombs the skit as a mean old Albanian lady called Blerta, and none of the jokes revolving around that were original (I got a strong Borat whiff from some), but most of them were funny.
The airline skit was cute but nothing more, outside of Kenan’s gigantic bag (the prop did most of the work, but I liked Kenan’s satisfied laugh) and the clever ending. Okay, and Bobby Moynihan’s devilish farter. And “X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: Business Class.” Maybe I’m a sucker, but maybe SNL’s going to be okay!
The new cast member gameshow smartly managed to get some broad digs in at the Arcade Fire’s expense as well, although the star of that sketch was undoubtedly Kyle Mooney’s ironic Boston Legal shirt. Lorne Michaels was carted out to make the joke the show needed to make: when asked who the new hire was, he said, “is it the black one?” Alright, SNL. Good job with your little meta joke. I’m not even mad at you for diversity’s sake. I just literally can’t tell these idiots apart yet.
Weekend Update couldn’t just be its reliable old self either. No, we had to be introduced to Cecily Strong the new host, who obviously will need some time to develop her personality behind the desk. I was neither enthused nor dismayed when I heard about her hiring; so far, it seems like she’ll be fine at the job, but I couldn’t figure out much beyond that. Meyers’ style is a little snarky, a little self-satisfied, but with a secret well of righteous indignance. He’s also a pro—whether you like him or not, he delivers the jokes all quick-style, like he should. Strong may be a little drowned out until Meyers has left the show, but the torch-passing concept is a fair one.
Following Weekend Update (and the always-welcome return of Drunk Uncle, whose lines will populate my stray observations) were two “old-timey” sketches in a row. Not the best idea, SNL. Try to break those ones up next time. The first, a Cinema Classics about an old movie with too much taxidermy, was convoluted and too smart for its own good, and just never really got off the ground. Not a stinker, just a head-scratcher.
But the second, starring Mike O’Brien (the one new hire I recognize, because he’s written for the show for years and hosts the wonderful YouTube show 7 Minutes In Heaven) was one of my favorite sketches of the night. Which is weird, because it wasn’t actually that good. Tina Fey was playing another batty old lady (although this one was a lot darker), there were a bunch of jokes about how the Model T was the only car in the nineteen-teens, etc. But O’Brien was totally game in a nothing role, and Fey confessed to killing a Navajo girl. O’Brien’s line about the attic being the only available form of treatment at the time was played perfectly. Nice and dark without rubbing it in too hard.
To bring it home, in case you were getting worried, another new favorite—the ex-porn stars hawking a product! Is there a better name for this sketch? I imagine this isn’t the last we’ve seen of it, they should have some sort of shorthand. It was funny! It’s always pretty funny! It’ll get driven into the ground soon, but it served to remind the audience that SNL isn’t some barren wasteland. The earth has not been scorched! Unless Miley Cyrus does that next week, am I right guys?
- I enjoyed Kyle Mooney’s Bruce Chandling character, although it’s clearly the kind of anti-comedy bit that would kill in a small venue like the UCB but is a little tougher to translate to TV. That it translated at all is a testament to how funny the turn was (where he gets super-lonely and sad).
- Some of Tina’s fake recurring characters: Queef Latina, Salvador Dali Parton, Reba McIntired, The Lady With No Theme Song (“and she’s a vampire!”).
- “I love your outfit by the way, where did you get that?” “A fire.”
- The e-meth thing was cute. Aaron Paul was so good in everything. I liked him with Drunk Uncle too. Can Aaron Paul just be on SNL now?
- Drunk Uncle is ready for baseball and hockey. “Someone’s got to watch the white sports.”
- “Nowadays, it’s just, can I get some Swiss chard on my Roku? Is that Amazon Prime pumpkin spiced?”
- I really like Ree De’What. “I’m not a good guesser. Just ask my wife. She asked me to guess her weight, and I said, ‘just your ass, or everything?’”
- “What’s that thing you put your stuff in?” “Your mouth.” “No, it’s like in your house.” “A cage.” “A closet.”
- “I thought I got banged into a solar eclipse. But I was really just locked in the trunk, looking through the key-hole.”