Saturday Night Live: First Impressions From the Season Premiere
With heavier cast turnover than in any season since 1995, Saturday Night Live’s season premiere felt like it would be, well, different. Lorne Michaels himself promised a “year of reinvention” but with 47 seasons under his belt, can the old dog really pull off new tricks? Here are our first impressions of SNL Season 48, which debuted last night with surprisingly excellent host Miles Teller. (Spoiler alert: We still love the old pooch, but she’s not going to be entering agility competitions anytime soon.)
Impression: “A Year of Reinvention” Looks a Lot Like Most Years
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Cold open, monologue, game show parody, commercial spoof, musical guest, high-concept sketch, Weekend Update.
Look, we get it. SNL didn’t become the longest-running entertainment program on television by doing avant-garde performance art every week. But pre-season publicity probably oversold the remix. “Change is exhilarating,” Lorne told The New York Times, but we guess his heart couldn’t stand the excitement? It would be hard to point to a single aspect of the season premiere that indicated “change” in any way.
(We’re not saying it was a lousy show. At worst, it rated a “solid.” But at least for one night, change was not on the menu.)
Impression: But SNL Knows What Needs to Be Done
The premiere’s highlight might have been the cold open. That’s rarely the case, but SNL went meta with a hilarious skewering of everything the show gets criticized for, offering a glimmer of hope that it knows things need to change.
Peyton Manning (Teller with a witty, dead-on impression) and brother Eli (Andrew Dismukes) break down the opening sketch ManningCast-style, noting all of the SNL tropes that we’re tired of watching week after week: More Trump, obscure politician impressions that no one asked for, one-sided political humor, pathetic attempts to launch catchphrases, gratuitous celebrity cameos (hi there, Jon Hamm and Shaun White!), and clumsy attempts at appealing to Gen Z.
SNL gets it! And as anyone addicted to comedy crutches knows, admitting you have a problem is the first step.
Impression: File a missing persons report for Cecily Strong
Stylish new opening credits, SNL! The font is a little strange, suggesting some weird crypto product called LorneCoin, but generally, we’re digging it. All of the cast members look great except … wait. (rewinds DVR) Where the heck is Cecily Strong?
Strong’s departure seemed probable at the end of last season. She’s been around for years, has plenty of opportunities on screen and stage, and her season-ending tour de force as Jeanine Pirro certainly felt like a farewell.
She wasn’t one of the eight to officially sing sayonara, but Cecily was nowhere to be found on the premiere. Entertainment Weekly was quick to post a “don’t worry, Cecily fans!” She’s off performing Searching for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe on a Los Angeles stage, explains EW, and she’ll be back at 30 Rock in time for the October 23 show. Color us skeptical. Plenty of cast members, including Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson, and Strong herself, took time off last season for side projects. But they still appeared in the opening credits! This one bears watching.
Impression: It might be Bowen Yang’s show now.
Someone was going to fill the void created by Kate, Aidy, and Pete. (And Cecily?) Kenan Thompson was his usual jovial self, saving sketches with goofy reactions and effortlessly launching home run laughs over the wall. Mikey Day seems to have settled into the old Jason Sudeikis role: occasionally playing the oddball but also functioning as a reliable choice for the straight man in other sketches (which means he’s on screen a lot).
But Yang took the most significant step forward last night. As the unfortunate catch-phrase-purveyor in the open, a self-referential punchline, a hip-hop Charmin Bear, a bisexual Hamburglar, and a taunting spotted lanternfly, no one got a bigger share of the spotlight.
The additional screen time was predictable and overdue. And naturally, he killed it.
Impression: Punkie Johnson Was Promoted to Full Cast Member (So Why Not Use Her?)
We’re not saying Punkie isn’t funny. We’re not saying she is. We have no idea! In her years as a featured player, she’s barely found the stage. Last season, only the jettisoned Aristotle Athari appeared less than Punkie.
So when she showed up in the opening credits as a full-fledged member of the cast, it seemed like we’d finally get a chance to see what Punkie could do. That … didn’t happen. Sure, she appeared in three sketches, probably a personal record. But she’s still basically in the background, a one-line janitor in an AMC spoof, a background bartender in the last sketch of the night.
Impression: The New Kids Are Going to Need A Minute
All four of the new featured players -- Michael Longfellow, Molly Kearney, Marcello Hernandez, and Devon Walker -- got courtesy screen time last night, but not enough to make an impression. That is, except for Longfellow, who got the first shot at stardom with a desk bit on Weekend Update.
The appearance, reminiscent of Pete Davidson’s shot on the Weekend Update desk back on 2014’s season premiere, was a transparent attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle. The set-up is essentially the same: Young, good-looking guy, unusual family situation, translating stand-up bits into a conversation with Jost and Che.
But it just didn’t hit the same. Pete’s first set gave viewers the impression that they had just watched a star being hatched on live television. Longfellow was solid and generated plenty of laughs. But we may need a few more shows before declaring Longfellow as the show’s next big thing.
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Top image: Broadway Video