“It’s a rebuilding year,” host Tina Fey reminded audiences, before making a quip about her plastic surgeon. The 39th season of SNL is upon us, and it didn’t arrive without the slew of inevitable “Will the show survive this season?” think pieces that sprung up after the departure of Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, and (soon) Seth Meyers.
Fey helped usher in six new cast members last evening (Beck Bennett, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noël Wells, and Brooks Wheelan), and the series broke tradition by affording the newbies more face time than normal. O’Brien is the only recognizable member amongst the freshman class. He spent several years behind the scenes as a writer for SNL and hosts the video series 7 Minutes In Heaven . Something hopeful: SNL‘s unknown featured players have fared better than bigger names — like Robert Downey, Jr. who joined the series in 1985 after a breakout performance in the film Tuff Turf and quickly vanished.
As far as our regulars, there was some overkill in the Kenan Thompson department, but Kate McKinnon once again proved she’s a force to be reckoned with. Where were they hiding Nasim Pedrad? This was musical guest Arcade Fire’s fourth appearance on the series, and the band popped up in a sketch that gave us pause for thought. Régine Chassagne channeled her inner robot for a performance of “Reflektor” and the band debuted “Afterlife” — all before the premiere of a half-hour concert special after Fey and company said their goodbyes.
We detail the best and worst moments of the night, below.
Obamacare Cold Open
President Obama (Jay Pharoah) gave a press conference about Obamacare and invited a few citizens to the podium so they could share their thoughts. Kate McKinnon wins the sketch as an ER doctor urging people to stop “putting stuff up their butts,” and Aaron Paul made his first cameo of the evening as Jesse Pinkman, working that ratty beanie overtime. “I had this friend and he got sick. Like, cancer sick,” he tells us. “So he was like, backed into a corner. So, he did what any of us would have done. He started cooking meth.” Sincere thanks to SNL for not knocking us out with the Breaking Bad jokes last night, but we would love to see these normally bland political openers tighten up (or get crazy) this season.
Tina Fey’s Characters Monologue
It wasn’t a laugh riot, but it’s great to see Tina, and she humiliated the new cast members for our viewing pleasure. Also, gold lamé hot pants and jazz hands.
Last night proved SNL has no idea what to do with Tina Fey when she isn’t playing Tina Fey, but the Girls sketch saved the writers. Noël Wells was clearly hired for her Hannah Horvath impression, Vanessa Bayer’s Shoshanna is everything, and McKinnon made the perfect Jessa, but Fey’s Blertha, the new Albanian cast member, was hilarious. The tragic refuge roomie’s girl-centric advice? “You cannot do better than this man. He is strong like ox. You are weak and soft and dress like baby.”
“I can ride the ice pony anywhere I want,” Taran Killam deadpans while holding an electronic meth cigarette (no antifreeze!). Points for McKinnon losing her shit in a grocery store (wearing a sailor hat) and another Jesse Pinkman cameo.
New Game Show
It’s time for America’s favorite game show: New Cast Member or Arcade Fire? Kenan Thompson takes over Bill Hader’s hosting role with “Eh” results, but he did his whole screamy thing. Fey’s snarky observations lightened the mood (Win Butler as “hipster Paul Bunyan” and a “Serbian basketball player”). Watch out Mike O’Brien, Win does a pretty great De Niro impression. When Lorne Michaels enters the sketch and can’t figure out who the new cast members are, the joke takes a slightly uncomfortable turn — because the six players are indeed very white, male, and indistinguishable.
Tina helps Weekend Update co-host Cecily Strong settle into her new role, but Seth does most of the heavy lifting. Newcomer Kyle Mooney shows off his character, Bruce Chandling (a stand-up comic vet). Drunk Uncle is starting to wear out his welcome, but hey, there’s Aaron Paul again. Thanks, Meth Nephew. The Seth and Cecil fist bump at the end was sweet.
Kenan hosts PBS series Cinema Classics and introduces a film with a strange backstory about a mentally challenged taxidermist. The sketch is mostly sight gags and the kind of weird that has become a dying art on the series. Sadly, it doesn’t quite cut it.
Airplane passenger stereotypes galore. Hardly the unfunniest of the evening, but just kind of there — and not a smashing follow-up to the monologue.
Not a great fit for Fey’s bag of tricks, but Bayer and Strong always deliver a few funnies: “Shoes for your first Amber Alert.”
Used Car Commercial
Mike O’Brien’s solo spot feels slightly out of synch with the rest of the show — but perhaps that’s a good thing? He plays an enthusiastic used Model-T salesman, while Fey is his disturbed wife: “I gave all my babies to the well.”