Whenever there’s a mass exit of talent from Saturday Night Live, it’s always interesting to see how the show rebounds. This year, the show returns without three of its biggest stars, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen, taking away a wealth of characters and voices. Writers can no longer rely on throwing Hader into a sketch to make it funny. Things should be rocky for at least the first few episodes, as the show’s six new cast members are getting used to the lay of the land. Thankfully the first episode of the new season has Tina Fey to help them out in what ends up being a pretty solid premiere.
Starting off the season with a C-SPAN skit about the Affordable Care Act had the potential to be a mistake, but thanks to Kate McKinnon as a doctor tired of pulling things out of people’s butts and Aaron Paul showing up as Jesse from Breaking Bad, the cold open wasn’t half as bad as some of these current-events opens are.
Fey’s monologue was pretty strong, as she mentioned she was planning on bringing back all of her recurring (non-existent) characters from her time on the show, such as Johnny Jean Jacket, Queef Latina and Salvador Dali Parton. She then brought on the new cast members and made them do an embarrassing dance number, since as a new cast member, that’s just what you do behind the host.
The monologue was followed by a great (if oddly timed) Girls parody, which nailed the style and characters of the HBO show. New cast member Noël Wells does a fantastic Lena Dunham that we better see more than once, but the inclusion of Tina Fey as the newest “Girl,” Blerta from Albania, didn’t really need to be added to make this fantastic.
There were a few so-so bits here and there, such as an airport skit that thankfully didn’t go too long and was saved by Kenan Thompson and a gigantic suitcase. A commercial for e-meth was fine as well, and at the very least gave us another Paul cameo.
But the brilliant choice of the night was the inclusion of a game show hosted by Thompson called “New Cast Member or Arcade Fire.” After seeing all the cast members together during the opening monologue, I couldn’t help but think they looked like Arcade Fire altogether. This wasn’t just great because I love Arcade Fire, or because it gave Tina Fey the opportunity to say that Win Butler looks like a hipster Paul Bunyan, but it’s always so much fun for SNL to sort of poke fun at itself within its skits. Here when asked to decide if Butler or Mike O’Brien is the new cast member, Fey calls a lifeline, which ends up being Lorne Michaels. When stumped, Michaels asks if it’s “the black one,” clearly talking about Thompson. It’s fantastic for SNL to poke fun at its own lack of diversity and the fact that it’s pretty easy to get confused with all these new white guys.
Arcade Fire’s performances were of course amazing, starting off with “Reflektor,” and then premiering “Afterlife” in their second song. If you missed the post-SNL Arcade Fire concert, check it out. It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen on TV, with cameos from many SNL favorites and of course three fantastic new Arcade Fire songs.
Weekend Update was also shaken up, as Cecily Strong now joins Seth Meyers behind the desk. Strong is fine so far, but she’ll of course have to find her own voice over this season with Meyers leaving. If O’Brien doesn’t end up joining her behind the desk, I’ll pretty much be livid, since his “7 Minutes In Heaven” video series is brilliant and being co-host would definitely allow him more awkward interview possibilities.
Kyle Mooney’s Bruce Chandling character is a fun, weird choice that gets more hilarious the sadder it gets. But speaking of weird, funny characters, Drunk Uncle is back! I love that we’re filling out the world of Drunk Uncle with cameos, such as Peter Dinklage last season and now a third and final appearance from Paul as Cousin Meth.
After Update, Thompson took over for Hader on the Cinema Classics bit. It was a fine bit, but what really stood out is that Thompson is really getting more screen time, taking the place of parts that usually Hader would’ve done, and doing well at it.
O’Brien got his own skit as the first used car salesman commercial, which shows that not only are the price slashes crazy, but so is his wife, played by Fey. It becomes so dark, but the more disturbing it gets, the funnier it gets too.
Finally we got the return of the former porn stars, who are selling Manolo Blahnik shoes, or as they pronounce it, “Manual Blonde Dicks.” Like Drunk Uncle, the bit is relatively the same, but enough changes that it still remains funny week after week.
Whenever SNL has a cast shakeup, many people will proclaim that it’ll have a hard time making up for who they are losing. SNL is going to do fine in this transition though. It always makes it through. There are plenty of new possibilities with the new cast, and we’re going to get lots of new opportunities for the old cast, such as Thompson. SNL is starting this season strong, but let’s see if it can survive Miley Cyrus next week…
Best Lines of the Night:
-“All I know is Obamacare or no Obamacare, people need to stop putting stuff up their butts.”
-“This Sunday AMC will air the series finale of Breaking Bad. There’s been a lot of speculation about who will survive and who won’t. But I don’t like your chances, Low Winter Sun.”
-“You stay strong Juice!”
-“You went to school until you were eight and then you got married to a factory.”
-“We’re so crazy, not only did we slash prices, but I gave all my babies to the well.”