Saturday Night Live celebrated the beginning of their 40th season on air with guest host Chris Pratt from the recent box office smash “Guardians of the Galaxy” and musical guest and budding pop sensation Ariana Grande. While the debut episode undoubtedly had some rough patches, it is clear that there are many things to be excited about in another season of the classic comedy show.
The episode started out as a typical one would, with a politicized spin on a topic of public interest; the NFL and its public relations disaster regarding domestic abuse by athletes. While one could have easily predicted a cold open with Jay Pharoah as President Obama, this was slightly more topical and a solid choice to open with. While there were a few moments where the actors may have flubbed a line or two, the open was salvaged with Pharoah’s hilariously over-the-top Shannon Sharpe impression. If this show is going to be successful this season, Jay will have a lot to do with it, in my opinion.
After the famous words “Live from New York it’s Saturday Night” were uttered, one notable change was noticed. After the passing of long time announcer Don Pardo, former cast member Darrell Hammond took over the role as announcer, and while it was different hearing a voice besides Pardo announcing, Hammond seems to do a fine job with the role. Chris Pratt opened up his monologue after the credits, and in all honesty, it felt a bit tense and left a lot to be desired. It was a fairly standard musical open from a guest, one we’ve seen time and time before from hosts, but it wasn’t overly funny, which was a slight disappointment for me.
The show then went with a pre-taped segment, and a great one at that. They went with a product endorsement for ‘Cialis Turnt’ which was pretty funny, and showcased some of the veteran cast at their best. The first live skit started after the commercial, and it was an odd choice at best to start off with. Kyle Mooney played a small child alone on his birthday whose wish for his superhero figures to be real comes true. The writing was a bit awkward for this skit, and while Ariana Grande got some love from the audience for her part, I couldn’t help but wish that this skit would’ve been left for after Update, when the odd bits are usually rolled out. The show rebounded well though, with the recurring ‘Animal Hospital’ sketch, which finally saw Chris Pratt really do well.
After a solid performance by Ariana Grande, SNL embarked on yet another new era of Weekend Update, with the premiere of Michael Che as co-anchor along with Colin Jost, who premiered in the seat at the end of last season. While the pair didn’t get off to a great flow, the Update segment was buoyed by the guests, including the return of the very popular ‘Girl you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party,’ the very funny Leslie Jones (who I believe would be a great addition to the cast), and the premiere of new cast member Pete Davidson, whole stole the show with his bit about…well…what he would do for a million dollars. Davidson is the youngest cast member on the show at only 20 years old, and it’s clear that he will bring a fresh comedy perspective to the show, and a stand-up sensibility to compliment the largely improv-trained cast. While Jost and Che didn’t show electric chemistry on their first episode, there was some reason to be optimistic about their future pairing. Towards the end of their segment, Kenan Thompson came out to sing “Ooh Child” as the pair went back and forth assuring the president that the rest of his term will be much easier than it has been so far. This bit seemed fresh for the Update desk, and showed what this pairing could possibly be really good at; snarky and cynical political commentary, much like Che was used to on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” More of this, combined with a reliance on the recurring Update guests everyone loves so much hopefully will assure this new duo gets a fair shake from critics as the season winds on.
My favorite sketch of the night sort of came as a surprise to me towards the end of the show. It started out with Taran Killam and Beck Bennett impersonating NFL on CBS personalities, and I couldn’t help but immediately groan when I saw this. Two skits on the same topic is a bit much in my opinion, and I didn’t expect it to go anywhere good. But as various cast members went through the roll call of players confessing their illegal activities or sins, and as it got more ridiculous as the skit went on, I couldn’t help but be in stitches by the end. It was a skit I didn’t think had a great premise at first, but the cast really sold it, and I really love those moments on the show where things go better than I expected.
Overall, the 40th season of SNL was a bit of a mixed bag of good, bad, and just plain shaky. Chris Pratt did alright as a host, but probably won’t be back to host another time too soon, as he just didn’t do anything too memorable. The cast as it stands has promise going forth, with some really solid ideas they should build off of. With Sarah Silverman and Bill Hader to come as hosts, I expect good things for the next few episodes of SNL, with the hopes that the show will hit its stride nicely going forward.