SNL: So Are the New Kids Pretty Great, or What?

When Saturday Night Live returned on September 25, its season premiere was heavy on laughs but firmly entrenched in the past. Host Amy Poehler retired from the cast two years ago, and returning veterans Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, and honorary cast member Justin Timberlake all got airtime while many current players rode the pine. It felt like Lorne Michaels was insisting that the 2007-era of SNL was some kind of golden age (DEBATABLE) that will never be surpassed.

Don't get me wrong, it was great seeing those old friends. But the whole episode begged the question: How will SNL fare without a constant stream of returning MVPs doing all the heavy lifting, particularly after this season's departure of Will Forte and internet-famous Jenny Slate? That question was answered this weekend in a big way, as several of the baby cast members proved that SNL just might be headed for another great stretch.

After a dreadful cold opening involving Rahm Emmanuel and the SNL-patented Cue Card Stare™, host Bryan Cranston (repeat Emmy-winner for Breaking Bad) did a charming opening monologue and instantly reminded me of something I always forget: Gifted character actors are the best hosts. Duh. I mean, Taylor Lautner and January Jones might be timely and easy on the eyes, but did you see those episodes? I actually felt stressed-out from cringing so hard.

Post-monologue, the new faces immediately began to pop up in a terrific fake ad for Pepto Bismol Ice. That's new addition Taran Killam as the hunky bartender and second-year ingenue Nasim Pedrad as the party girl. My favorite part is the CGI model:

Cranston tore it up as Billy Ray Cyrus opposite newbie Vanessa Bayer's Miley Cyrus, and it was during this sketch that it really became clear SNL made some good hiring decisions this year. Bayer knocked it out of the park, and it was great to see other newbie Paul Brittain get so much screen time doing his eerily accurate Johnny Depp impression:

Then Morgan Freeman and Ernest Borgnine showed up in the newest installment of SNL chestnut "What Up With That?." Easily the most surreal and absurd recurring sketch SNL has ever aired, it's of course my favorite. In this edition, Freeman is completely unamused by the proceedings, while Borgnine seems absolutely thrilled. Killam has taken over for Will Forte as announcer, plus keep your eyes peeled for new cast member Jay Pharaoh, who shows up hilariously as Bootsy Collins.

Kristen Wiig's recurring character Shanna the disgusting seductress returned for a few more gross minutes… with sexy results. Pay special attention to Taran Killam's wordless reactions:

And in keeping with the theme of newbies, who is this Kanye West? He seems like a nice young man and I think he may have a real future.

Anyway, "Weekend Update" also happened. I'm not a Seth Meyers fan. Wish he wasn't head writer. I know I'm in the minority on this one. Let's just agree to disagree about it.

But! This "Kid Smartz" sketch was hilarious. I might just be a sucker for Kenan Thompson in drag, but it made me laugh:

(Those SNL writers sure love their slightly dated viral videos:)

But I liked it. Plus, Bryan Cranston and Andy Samberg kissed on the mouth like a dozen times. With male kissing at that rate, it'll take Modern Family about 24 seasons to catch up!

Another highlight for me (and presumably nobody else) was this nutzoid sketch with Bryan Cranston and Fred Armisen as the worst singing duo imaginable, the Bjelland Brothers. This is seriously the sort of sketch that usually airs at 12:55 am, where you sit there the whole time wondering who came up with this idea, why, and how many people had to sign off on it. In other words, my favorite kind of sketch:

But then! In the highlight of the episode, second-year newbie Nasim Pedrad absolutely owned it as Henry, a small, effeminate, nerdy boy who'd prefer to paint a mural of a Pegasus than receive self-defense training from his former Navy SEAL dad.

It feels a little weird making light of bullying these days, but Pedrad's skills, particularly in physical comedy—check out how quickly Henry bounces back up each time—made me forget all that. Pedrad may be a holdover from last year, but she spent too much of the season playing interchangeable roles with Jenny Slate. This sketch showed that she's definitely a standout, and she along with the other new faces make me very hopeful about the future of SNL. Who knows, maybe these new kids will be the returning MVPs someday.

Question time!

... Did you dig this episode?

... Do you think the show hasn't been funny since ___________ left to do movies?

... How do you like the new kids? Do you want any of them to be your boyfriend or girlfriend?

... Was Bryan Cranston underused?

... Who is this Kanye West person, anyway?

... Jane Lynch hosts next week! Are you excited or super excited?

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