Saturday Night Live has returned, and at least we had a little bit of fun, even if a lot of it came in strange packages. They’ve cleaned house with a number of cast members leaving for various reasons, so the successful mainstays have stuck around. The newest addition is Michael Che, coming over from The Daily Show to co-host Weekend Update with Colin Jost. There’s still an issue in the writing that’s very clear in this episode – they still don’t quite know how to end a skit with the ideas this new crew is bringing – but the talent still shines through for the players, enough to give me a hope we’re off to a better foot than last year’s abysmal season. Let’s walk through the highlights.
-Cold Open: SNL usually likes to take a jab at current events. With NBC as a major player in NFL airings, it’s great that they’re acknowledging the NFL scandals of late. It’s fun to see the hosts get involved in the cold opens every now and again, and this was a nice little introduction to Chris Pratt as the NFL commissioner who might be on the wrong side of the scandal. I’m not a huge football fan, but I definitely got all the jokes. It felt a little low key for a cold open to the premiere of a major landmark for SNL, but everyone did OK enough in this sketch. I did feel like they took too many jabs at the NFL overall in this episode, and maybe the player intros was the better execution of the joke on the NFL scandal than the CNN interview.
-Monologue: I usually am not a fan of when hosts lean on singing / performing as their monologue (with few exceptions – I mean, Justin Timberlake is a given to make a whole song performance out of his monologue), especially since I felt like last season they relied on this so much, but Chris Pratt’s felt fun and genuine – breaking character a bit can be fun and funny on this show, and it was very sweet for Chris Pratt to mess up his song a little bit, and give a nod to Anna Farris. It also felt very Andy Dwyer, so again, fitting to do the acoustic guitar routine.
-Fake Ad of the Week: Turnt – Turn Down For What has inexplicably been in my head the last week, and even though that song was definitely a summer thing, I’m glad they found a funny use for it. It’s also a great reboot of the sexual enhancement pills that becoming “turnt” with wild hip hop stylin being the thing couples want to spice things up.
-Best Sketch of the Week: Booty Rap. I wasn’t sure where this was going at first, but this was a fun, ridiculous, fully formed skit that actually ended at the right place and the right way. I loved that both Aidy Bryant and Chris Pratt had this inner rapper persona inside them and they could barely even control those urges, with their friends commenting and questioning why they’d say the things they said. I adored that Aidy’s inner rapper was Nicki Minaj, and the slight rewrites of the songs were clever. This was also one of the best in-skit performances by Chris of the night, where he actually felt like a real main player. In recent years, it seems it’s been harder to get the host at the center of a sketch, since they often wind up being an extra player in a scene, so this worked with Chris as the male focal point.
I also have to give a shout out to the He-Man and Lion-O sketch, because this was the most fun display of physical comedy, wrapped around the outlandish idea that these toys turning human are discovering sexual urges for the first time. Taran Killam, as expected, definitely killed it with the inflection of his voice every time he implored Kyle Mooney’s Danny with a question or a statement about what’s going on. And Aidy Bryant being into the toys becoming human and patting their packages was a nice touch. It still ended awkwardly – Kyle Mooney was the gateway in, but he was ultimately the weak link of this one.
-Worst Sketch of the Week: The Vet Office. The characters were funny but there wasn’t any real resolution here – it just escalated into the idea that these vet nurses were announcing ridiculous forms of pet deaths, but we don’t know why or how. It’s ridiculous that they’d be the ones running the show in this vet office as well. The only thing that was clear was that they just wanted to get all the patients out of there, but that’s definitely not a satisfying enough motivation for me to buy into the gag. I wish there was a scene with a doctor, or if we knew whether the pets truly died or not. That could’ve lent itself to a better ending than them putting on matching hats and going out.
-Player of the Week: Aidy Bryant. As the horny mom and the girl who hits on the guy singing Anaconda, even the woman example in Turnt, she really stood out this week and her jokes always landed in the hearts of the sketches she was in.
-Weekend Update bit of the week: Cheer Up Obama definitely took the cake this week. I think what made this work is that it felt like Michael Che finally warmed up and felt comfortable in this bit. The jokes in this section were the best, coming from Che and even Jost, taking jabs at a future Barack Obama Blvd and George W Bush’s newfound hobby of painting being what we remember him for now. Leslie Jones Relationship Expert on being single and Pete Davidson as the resident “young person” are tied for second runners up for me as fun character correspondents. The turns their characters take in their little bits were great, from Leslie being confident about being single to crying out about the “spirits” of men past to Pete’s roundabout admission to relying on prostitution to make ends meet now that he’s not living with his mother. Pete Davidson’s twisted logic is almost what I missed from Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party, which I actually liked the least. It feels like Cecily Strong wrote it way more dumbed down, but Michael Che playing off of her worked well for me.
It’s clear there’s still writing hurdles, but this was at least a very palatable, fairly enjoyable episode of Saturday Night Live. I think last season was a season to work out the kinks with a bunch of new, strong players, so now that they know what everyone’s strengths are, it was easier to at least land a number of different jokes all throughout the episode. Hopefully, the progress keeps moving upward, because it’d be such a shame to waste the talent that’s clearly present in the cast.