‘SNL’ Opener Wasn’t a Horrible Mess, and That’s a Success

Series savvily managed its transition game on a night when a lot could have gone wrong

It could have been bad. Like really, really bad.

But the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” deserves a pat on the back just for avoiding being awful.

No matter how much Lorne Michaels or anyone else may have wanted to play down the importance of the 39th season premiere last night, injecting six new cast members into a series is a dicey proposition. Even if “SNL” has proven remarkably adept at doing so over its long run.

Having returning veteran Tina Fey as guest host was a smart move. What better way to convey a sense of stability than to bring back an old favorite and get our minds off the fact that a whole bunch of other old favorites were gone (goodbye, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader) and replaced by a bewilderingly high volume of new faces.

Another big change that hinted at departures still to come came with the Weekend Update segment, when sophomore sensation Cecily Strong assumed anchor duties alongside Seth Meyers, who is leaving “SNL” in the midseason for his own late-night talk show.

While Fey has been better in past guest-host outings, “SNL” utilized her appropriately to ease the transition, even self-consciously so by having her opening monologue serve as a humorous hazing of the new folks. If anything, “SNL” went a bit overboard in addressing the elephant in the room by devoting a second skit to them that had Fey guessing who was new and who was a member of musical guest Arcade Fire.

We get it, they’re new. Let’s move on.

“SNL” also savvily frontloaded the series with the best sketch of the night: a parody of the HBO series “Girls,” where Fey played an Albanian refugee who made the privileged problems of the cast’s quartet of gals seem all the more absurd. “Girls” isn’t the most timely comedic target, but funny is funny.

“SNL” struck a timelier note with multiple cameos from “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul on the eve of his series’ big finale. In character as Jesse Pinkman, it made for a lot of methamphetamine jokes like the one that couldn’t quite save the episode’s opening sketch, which showed Jay Pharoah needs to work the rust off his Obama impression. Strong is also going to need time to gel with Meyers, but if she can summon even  half of the spark she had last season, she’s going to be fine.

Michaels should at least take comfort that Taran Killam is showing every sign of growing into the cast alpha male “SNL” desperately needs after losing so many of its best guys. On the femme side, Kate McKinnon was such a standout last night, she just needs to get recurring characters to make her a star.

To expect perfection from a season premiere is absurd, particularly one that is an introduction to so many new faces that don’t yet have rust to speak of.  In that respect, “SNL” can pride itself on a successful opening in that it steered clear of that flopsweat stink that tends to permeate past episodes when rookies take their wobbly first steps. None of the new kids demonstrated glimmers of greatness to come, but that’s OK, too.

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  1. Gary says:

    I wouldn’t call Cecily Strong the breakout star of last year – not even close. Hopefully she can improve this year, but last year she come off as one-dimensional, annoying, and not very funny.

    The real breakout star of the last 2 years is Kate McKinnon. She is one of the great comedic talents SNL has had in recent memory.

  2. T says:

    Loved Kate M. as the doctor during the Obama speech….

  3. sg8 says:

    I got about two minutes into the episode and had to bail from discomfort.

  4. tcspeaksTC says:

    It was awful. SNL lacks diversity and lives on frat-level humor even when those skits continue to fall flat (and it was like they drug the worst of them out for the premiere) which leads me to believe that they are clueless about their demographic – esp if they think the viewers are only a bunch of 17-year-old guys playing video games with the show on the background. Nothing was a surprise. There was no real risk – except for the music – which seemed like it belonged on another show. What? There isn’t a single comedian over 40 that could be a permanent part of the ensemble? Talk about a bland cast of all the same….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

  5. Rick Rios says:

    As an SNL regular, I had a hard time getting through this season premier. I thought the quality of the skits,not so much the new cast members, were very weak. With Tina Fey as the guest host, maybe my expectations were too high. I won’t stop watching, being a faithful fan, but I’m not so sure for how long based on what I witnessed last night.

  6. LD says:

    Cowboystar, I think you should just avoid the show because you don’t seem to get the humor. The drunk uncle character was SUPPOSED to be incoherent—that is the reason he is called drunk uncle. He is one of the more popular characters on the show. The musical guest was fine. The character in the Girls parody wasn’t an albino, she was Albanian. There is a difference. The sketches weren’t great, but it was overall a solid start to the season and I want to see more next week.

    • Noel&Leon says:

      I agree with LD, you should avoid the show from now on. The premier sucked & it shows little hope for improvement.

      • LD says:

        N&L, if you think the season opener sucked you should indeed avoid the show from now on because that was above average as far as SNL goes. The show has always had its share of hits and misses every week and the expectations of some of the viewers seems too high.

  7. cowboystar12 says:

    Tina Fey could not save this disaster.from happening. Poor script writing, inept characters and
    a lame music guest that helped put the viewers to sleep. Weekend Update was butchered with
    ‘drunk uncle’ that was incoherent. The show only had a moment of greatness with Tina Fey’s
    albina character. Sad beginning for a once great show.

  8. I actually felt that the writing was fairly lazy. Yeah, Jesse and BREAKING BAD is a hot topic, but seriously, repeating the same set-up three times in the first 40 minutes? The Jesse cameo would be funny once, but one it got to WEEKEND UPDATE, they were really going to the same well too often.

    And having ARCADE FIRE as a guest just to set up a bad half hour 1 AM special? Hmmm.

  9. Every W. Person says:

    anyone else notice how there isn’t a single non-white person in the NEW CAST OF SIX? yay us! we did it again! #TakingBackComedyBitches #FeelAtHomeOnThisSiteToo

    • Darren says:

      but they were replacing cast members who were predominantly white male. Okay six might be a few too many but it is about balance

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