Those inclined to grumble over SNL's quality (or lack thereof) tend to repeat a certain complaint at the beginning of every season: "They had the whole summer off and THIS was the best they could do?" The problem with that complaint is, summer break or not, the writers still only had three days to formulate this show. Simply being rested isn't enough to fully put one back into the swing of things; that'd be like forcing a high school student to take the PSATs on the first day of school. You know? If anything, season premieres are probably harder to write. Add to that the loss of three main cast members and the addition of a handful of newbies and SNL had a few hurdles to overcome in its first week back. And guess what? The episode was pretty great, all things considered! Host Seth MacFarlane proved he was more than just the billionaire producer of some of America's most grating comedies; turns out he's also pretty charming ON camera. Obviously Frank Ocean killed it. Obviously. But the overall surprise was how solid SNL seemed despite its myriad between-seasons changes. Credit where credit's due: Lorne Michaels & Co. are still in control. Let's talk about the episode!
[Apologies to international readers for these embedded clips, Hulu can be a bit of a jerk.]
Cold Opening: Obama vs. Romney
A big deal was made about Fred Armisen passing the Obama impersonation torch over to actual African-American Jay Pharoah, so this sketch began with a pretty funny fake-out in which it seemed like Armisen was still doing Obama at first. But after Pharoah took the stage, it was immediately clear that his impersonation would be at least as good as Armisen's, and possibly even better in the future (should he get good material). Pharoah was probably overshadowed by Jason Sudeikis's completely inaccurate but still hilarious Mitt Romney impersonation, but all in all a solid start to SNL's political season.
Seth MacFarlane's Monologue
He did voices. He sang. We endured. I don't love Seth MacFarlane's shows and I certainly don't love his singing career, but over the course of the night it turned out I like him as a person? I did not expect this!
[Cool new opening credits, by the way! Much better than ones from the last few seasons that featured a clip of Jason Sudeikis playing game of street hoops, which was embarrassing every time. In this one both Vanessa Bayer and Taran Killam were bumped to series regulars, and new cast members Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Tim Robinson were officially included. Just rollin' with the new.]
Fake Ad: Bain Capital
I liked this fake ad! I'm not mega-political (the candidate could have been anyone), but the tone and accusations just made me laugh so much.
Rodger Brush: Sex After 50
I may never get tired of Rodger Brush, Fred Armisen's cantankerous, completely tactless jerk of a substitute TV host. "Oh, San Francisco style." Also, the competition I made up about which new kid would speak first on the air was won by Tim Robinson, who played the younger gay lover of Seth MacFarlane's character. Congratulations, Tim Robinson!
Eastwood and Chair
This one was topical, I guess.
Gangnam Style at Lids
I didn't understand this one. I guess just the mere presence of Korean rapper PSY or a reference to his now-ubiquitous YouTube meme is enough to count as entertaining? So why all the Lids stuff? Was it a paid promotion or something? I'm confused.
Man, this sketch went from lame to amazing SO QUICKLY. I should've known it would end up weird from how seedy the stage was, but dang was Bill Hader amazing in this. I especially loved when the camera just focused on the puppets like the bit was just a demented version of the Muppets or something. Good sketch.
Frank Ocean Performance #1: Thinking About You
Um, question. Why was John Mayer there? Don't answer that, it doesn't matter. WHY WAS JOHN MAYER THERE? Anyway, Frank Ocean is talented and this song is incredible. I was slightly distracted by the arcade games, but that was fine. This was a victory for all people with eyes and ears.
Commentary: Honey Boo Boo and Mama
See, it's a problem when I actively avoid certain things about pop culture but then SNL shoves them back in my face, rendering them essentially unavoidable. Oh well, at least Bobby Moynihan made me laugh.
Commentary: Ryan Lochte
I think this was the best thing Seth MacFarlane did all night. Just perfect. I mean, I like Ryan Lochte, but this was VERY accurate. Yeah, this was the moment when I realized that I like Seth MacFarlane as a live-action performer. "It feels so weird to be dry." Nailed it.
Commentary: Mimi Morales
Ooh, showcase for the new girl! Honestly, this sassy Latina-type is a stock character that I've seen a lot of performers do, and it seems like maybe it got shoehorned in here because it made everyone laugh during her audition? Still though, it worked, and I loved Jay Pharoah's silent participation as a handsy boyfriend. Anyway, this could've gone wrong, but it was plenty fun. Nice job, Cecily Strong.
You know how when drill sergeants ask rhetorically whether they stuttered or not? Imagine if the drill sergeant actually stuttered while saying that? This sketch turned out funnier than that sounds!
Steve Harvey Show
If the whole reason for this sketch's existence was to put Seth MacFarlane in a Steve Harvey-esque getup, it was WORTH IT. I continue to proudly admit my fondness for Kenan Thompson, and here he was firing on all cylinders. I laughed at a lot, and then—get this—the sketch ended before I got tired of it! How often does that happen?
Here's another sketch that took a potentially annoying/tired premise and made it hilarious. Best part was definitely Nasim Pedrad going "And then my sister was like [pantomimes being dead]." Also Fred Armisen's robber. So good.
Frank Ocean Performance #2: Pyramids
HAHA WHAT? THAT JOHN MAYER GUITAR SOLO! Have you ever seen anything grosser on television in your life? Holy moly. And then Frank Ocean playing a video game for no real reason? Honestly, just a handful of baffling decisions here, but they certainly kept me on my toes. I like this Frank Ocean character. John Mayer needs to cut it out.
Short and VERY sweet. Man did this one catch me off guard. Sometimes SNL likes to hide its weirdest bits at the very end, and I'm glad they had time to air this one. Two illiterate (Amish?) guys reading off a very long URL, one symbol at a time. My favorite letter was definitely "The river what took my son [sad pause]." This sketch was a victory lap.
You know what? I'm calling it: Season 38 is off to a great start so far. No offense to Andy Samberg or Kristen Wiig, but it's clear the show is keeping the party going. I didn't even miss the SNL Digital Short! So, yeah, congratulations, Lorne Michaels. You can keep your job I GUESS.
How did YOU think Seth MacFarlane did? And was this a good season premiere?