Happy 40th, Saturday Night Live. Let’s cut right to the chase with the inaugural episode, hosted by Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt and featuring musical guest Ariana Grande. There are a few new faces this season, including “Weekend Update” co-anchor Michael Che (no worries, Cecily Strong is still here) and newcomer Pete Davidson. Live TV watchers will be immediately reminded that Darrell Hammond has taken over announcer duties, as the late, great Don Pardo—who was the voice of SNL since it premiered in 1975—passed away in August. Lorne Michaels waved goodbye to John Milhiser, Noël Wells, and Brooks Wheelan, but former featured player Mike O’Brien resumes his spot in the writer’s room. Lastly, Nasim Pedrad left SNL to star in Fox’s Mulaney. But the show must go on. We have high hopes for some big surprises this season. Here we go.
“He-Man and Lion-O”
Kyle Mooney is a lonely child who celebrates his birthday with one wish: he hopes his toys will come to life. His wish is granted as Pratt and Taran Killam turn into real-life He-Man And Lion-O. But the hulking heroes don’t understand the young boy’s world—at least until their hormones kick in. Suddenly two grown men in hip-hugging briefs are simulating masturbation on the Studio 8H stage. Ariana Grande’s cameo is not as cool as one would hope (her musical performance also sounds like wind through a tunnel), but Aidy Bryant’s pervy mom swoops in to leave us with some final funnies.
I sometimes feel trapped inside of Marvel’s Bus People. I would watch Marvel’s Fancy Ghosts.
Former correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and former SNL writer Michael Che joins the wooden talking head also known as Colin Jost at the “Weekend Update” desk. Che is also the first African-American co-anchor in “Weekend Update” history. Cecily Strong makes the requisite please-don’t-turn-the-channel-during-Weekend-Update appearance as “that girl you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with.” Che fumbles a few lines while warming up, but he’s a breath of fresh air. He’s physically engaged in the comedy, and his delivery eventually lands on its feet. Here’s everything you need to know about him. All hail Leslie Jones who returns as a “relationship expert.” She watches a little too much Ghost Whisperer and relates the woes of single ladydom like nobody’s business. Twenty-year-old stand-up comedian Pete Davidson (who made an appearance on Brooklyn Nine-Nine) joins the desk as the “resident young person.” Davidson’s confidence hits you immediately. His bit is raunchy enough to wake everyone up (the “No, I’m a business man” gets all the laughs), and he feels like a natural fit. Variety named him as one of their 10 comics to watch (read more about the Staten Island native over here). And in case you’re wondering: no, Davidson isn’t the youngest SNLer of all time. Anthony Michael Hall was 17 when he joined the show during the ’85-’86 season.
Aidy Bryant and Pratt are shy, awkward types trying to make a love connection at a bar. It’s all very adorbs, until Bryant’s character breaks out her version of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” (which I wanted to hear in full, because hilarious). But Pratt’s nerd is not to be upstaged.
Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett get delightfully weird, ripping on ‘90s sitcoms with invasive music, a corny laugh track, ridiculous editing, muffled audio, and oddball cutaways (my favorite being a fantastical castle). It’s great to hear the audience embrace the Mooney sensibility instead of listening to deafening silence during an entire sketch of in-jokes created for a very particular subculture.
I think it was a wise move to allow some of the new faces in tonight’s episode to hog the spotlight for a change. Vanessa Bayer was somewhat underused, but she leaves a lasting impression in this sketch. Bayer and Pratt are non-player characters who cap off a game test group’s victory win with a melodramatic mega makeout sesh. The resulting relationship narrative that ensues needs its own soap opera. We really need to know more about the scar.
“CNN State of the Union: NFL Cold Open”
It’s great to see SNL cut right to the elephant in the room with aplomb, but this is just rough.
“Chris Pratt Monologue”
Pratt is nervous, but wife and fellow film star Anna Faris is there to cheer him on. We also get a song. It’s cute, but not very invigorating for a big 40th season opener.
White people dancing.
Recycling a sketch that was never funny in the first place doesn’t work. And dead animal jokes are the low-hanging fruit.
It would have been more beneficial to tighten up the NFL-themed cold open and perhaps introduce some of these Ravens/Panthers players bios. Another Leslie Jones appearance is the best thing this sketch has going for it.