Saturday Night Live is back! The show’s 40th season premières tonight with host/new action star Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Recreation) and musical guest Ariana Grande.
As always, the summer saw lots of shakeups for the NBC show. Perhaps most notable is the unfortunate death of announcer Don Pardo. SNL alum Darrell Hammond will be introducing the cast from now on. There was also the hiring of Michael Che, who will join Colin Jost at the Weekend Update table. Cecily Strong remains on the cast (phew!), but has been relieved of her Update duties. Pete Davidson also joins SNL as a featured player, replacing three featured players who were not asked to return: John Milhiser, Noël Wells and Brooks Wheelan. Nasim Pedrad also left the show and she’ll star in the FOX sitcom Mulaney Sundays this fall starting Oct. 5. Mike O’Brien returns to the writers’ room after a season as a featured player.
Sarah Silverman and Bill Hader will be hosting the next two episodes, but tonight, it’s Chris Pratt’s first turn at bat, after a nutso news summer that I imagine is a comedy writer’s dream (NFL fiasco! White House on ISIS! Celebrity nude photo theft!).
Join me on Twitter starting at 11:30 p.m. and come back at the end of the show for a full recap of the episode.
Cold open: State of the Union with Candy Crowley, played by Aidy Bryant. The season’s off to a shaky start, with Bryant flubbing her lines a few times. Host Chris Pratt made an appearance as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, thanking the people who stood by him in the last few weeks (Michael Vick, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, so he’s in OK company). B-
Monologue: Chris Pratt is so at ease on stage and he just oozes charm. It didn’t quite make a great monologue, but he whipped out a guitar and talk-sang through a little song that he messed up twice, with a little appearance from his wife Anna Faris, a two-time SNL host herself. C for charm
Cialis Turnt: “You’re able to achieve an erection, but I need more than that. I need you to get turnt.” So you’ve got your ED medication, but does it make you turnt? Hopefully this is just a way for SNL to get “Turn Down For What” out of its system… C-
He-Man and Lion-O: A boy with no friends makes a birthday wish that his action figures were real. He blows a candle and Chris Pratt and Taran Killam show up as He-Man and Lion-O. They were more Tarzan than than “Woody and Buzz Lightyear” as the boy mentions. Mostly, I found the sketch juvenile and predictable and predictably juvenile. F
Animal hospital: It’s an odd sketch to do again and again since the punchline is always the same… Pet owners bring their furry and scaly and feathery friends to the worst animal hospital in the world and the incompetent staff ends up, somehow, killing them. Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon almost make the sketch memorable. C+
Marvel movies: Jolting the episode back to life, these fake trailers for upcoming movies from Marvel, the studio that strikes gold with the most obscure adaptations, were spot on. I’d watch Bus People, and Pam, and Fancy Ghosts. A-
Ariana Grande started singing a stripped-down version of her hit “Break Free.” I’m a fan. Not a superfan, but I do like her. Her vocals were a bit shaky here, as they have been in many live performances of late. C+
Weekend Update: Silver lining of Cecily Strong leaving the Update desk: The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party is back, supposedly to talk about ebola. The relationship expert/single-girl Leslie Jones was hilarious, but the highlight was new featured player Pete Davidson talking about “when he was in high school, three years ago.” Sad/odd that the worst parts of Update were the news bits, but new Updater Michael Che and wooden Colin Jost redeemed it slightly with a pep talk for Barack Obama. The rest of his presidency probably won’t get better, but it can’t possibly get worse! B-
Aidy’s “Big Fat Ass:” There was an energy in this sketch that’s been missing from the episode so far. Aidy Bryant and Chris Pratt eye each other in a bar, but they’re nervous about talking, so they break into really inappropriate rap songs when they flirt. Aidy Bryant tonight is truly the MVP, though I’d make the case that she, Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon will carry the series through this 40th season. B-
Sitcom Bad Boys: These Kyle Mooney sketches don’t always do it for me, but this one was great. So absurd, so strange, so funny: Chris Pratt gets involved with a street gang (four pre-teens) and starts rebelling – he comes home too late to watch his favourite show and plays with a ball inside the house. B
New NFL lineups: This sketch looked so much like one they do on Key & Peele, about ridiculous names in football, that I just wished I was watching that instead of this, a sketch in which football players would also mention which crimes they’ve committed in their on-air introductions. D
Ariana Grande is joined on stage by The Weeknd for “Love Me Harder,” one of my favourite tracks from her sophomore album My Everything. She was outshone vocally by The Weeknd, to be honest, but it’s a nice duet. B+
Video-game testers: I love Chris Pratt and Parks and Rec proves he’s great at the physical comedy bits. This sketch showed that, too, as did his He-Man crashing through walls. But this sketch was painfully unfunny, about three video-game testers tasked with reviewing a terrible puzzle game in which the characters make out – inappropriately, unexpectedly – every time a level is completed. D-
Stray observations: Is it just me, or are castmembers blatantly reading their lines off cue cards?; It would be nice to see Michael Che and Colin Jost in more than just Update; The cast is huge and with big-name hosts next week and the week after, I hope we’ll get to see more of Kate McKinnon and Sasheer Zamata; The show doesn’t seem too interested in being super topical politically anymore, but if it’s going to tackle culture, it’ll have to do better than having two NFL sketches in one night.