SNL's Season Premiere: Seth MacFarlane's Night of a Thousand Voices

Saturday Night Live S38E01: "Seth MacFarlane / Frank Ocean"

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.



Puppet Class


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.



Weekend Update


Nope.



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.



Drill Sergeant


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?



First Date


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.



Wooden Spoons


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?



Comments (31)
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i know the last time i laughed more during an episode was when Jimmy Fallon hosted...this episode was unexpectedly funny....i am not saying i laughed at all the jokes, but i certainly found it funnier than the usual episodes of SNL! good job Seth MacFarlane, i am a fan now!
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I'd rate it as "Funny Enough." It's strange that as the real Obama's lightened up almost to Armisen's shade, they go with Pharoah. Now the SNL Obama's too dark. Pharoah's more accurate voice-wise. He should be fine.



I've never liked Thompson, as he's the same character no matter what skit he's in (like Samuel J Jackson), but the Steve Harvey bit was pretty funny. Then again, as soon as I see the real Steve Harvey and those teeth, I already laugh. He probably deserves half the credit here.



I didn't notice that Lochte was an idiot, but I find it easy to believe. I stopped paying attention to him once he showed us his shoe collection.



Anyway, the episode was easily better than most of last year, and I'm overjoyed that Samberg's gone.
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"I was America in Olympics" Loved this!
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Bill Hader is the funniest cast member on SNL, hands down. Most of his characters have me in stitches. I hope they do the puppet sketch again.
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I don't like Seth MacFarlane but he did way better than I expected aside from the monologue which I WAS expecting. I thought this was a very strong show, I laughed at almost all of the bits. However, why can't Amish people read or write? I liked that bit but the premises seemed pretty flawed.
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Best season premiere in a while from SNL, but I kinda expect it - I saw McFarlane performed live on stage before, so I knew he could bring it with ease.

Didn't understand the Lids connection here too, but the Gangnam Style thing was funny, because... Gangnam Style is funny. Simple as that.

Ocean's music isn't my thing (I dislike today's R'n'B so much that, frankly, I'm shock I'm even a John Legend fan!), but I got to give him props on "Pyramids", it was tight. And, although I completely missed him on the first performance, seeing him doing a guitar solo on a song he doesn't have much to do with made me realize that even John Meyer can get tired of banging Katy Perry 24/7 and, sometimes, just would like to hang out with his boys without any chick around... that was like a bro-date, wasn't it?

Finally, and I think I already said it last year: I don't know how to take any review about SNL seriously when the reviewer passionately dislike Weekend Update for no apparent reason whatsoever. Price, maybe you need to tell us why exactly you hate Seth Meyers so damn much - at least, it would help us understanding where you're coming from. Cause, as of right now, you seems a bit jealous of him... just saying. And WU was overall pretty damn hilarious on this show. So what gives?
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You may not have enjoyed Weekend Update, but you have to admit, the Chris Brown joke was nothing if not accurate.
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With you on all counts.



I even generally like Seth Meyers but this time it just didn't do much for me.



McFarlane is not a person I want to be friends with, nor do I think of him as a great person. But he's a talented performer and that cannot be denied. Favourites for me included the Ryan Lochte bit (so spot on), the Drill Sergeant sketch, and the wooden spoons.
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Puppet Class was the best sketch in recent memory.
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Why would you want to read this article when you could listen to an entertaining podcast about Seth MacFarlane? www.loungetownpodcast.com Its free, entertaining, and fucking hilarious....prove me wrong
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My top 3 things I liked about this episode

Puppet Class: Hader was freakin hilarious

Gangnam Style at Lids: Seriously who doesn't like that song?

Fake Bain Capital Ad: The character who Kennan played that everywhere he went to work Bain Capital brought it just to fire him.lol
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As long as Seth Meyers is still head of writing, the show is not going to get better no matter who comes or goes from the on-screen talent. He's a lazy hack of a writer, cribbing and mangling from better talents at every turn; and his Weekend Update is not only an unfunny read, but it misses the humor at nearly every pass simply because Meyers isn't very good. Challenge can spur many to be better, so I'm guessing Meyers has created a system whereby he isn't challenged at any turn as it sure feels like nobody there is passionate about the material, and there's too much disconnect between the writers and the actors, too many filters.



So as to the point up top, I think Price is wrong, this is nothing like a first-day student taking the PSATs, those are tests designed to see what one has learneed where the first episode of the season is meant to put the talents' best feet forward - the difference between talent and teaching is that talent should already be there when these writers and actors get to the set, that's why they were hired, while school is meant to mold someone into the role of a future talent.



As to the second point Price made, that Seth MacFarlane did really well, there Price is right on the money, this was a great showcase of a talented guy immersing himself into the SNL format. If anything, I'd say MacFarlane felt like a born SNL player who had been waiting to unleash that talent all his life and finally got to do so - he had a million voices but he also was able to act with his facial expressions and didn't overshadow any of the players in their sketches.



Bain Capital ad felt like 1 or 2 jokes too many complete with an extra minute of material that should have been cut, this was a failure of the writers and editor (Kenan Thompson is not terribly funny in my book because he overplays his material, he mugs for the camera, and he does the same handful of goofy voices and behaviors, but with stuff like this a tighter script or edit can showcase what he does right).



Price, I honestly cannot understand why anyone would perpetuate the Rodger Brush material, this is a character with the same 2 jokes over and over - can't hear despite it being entirely audible, and totally inappropriate responses then abusing people when they don't like it. It's a one-joke sketch and it's been going on for how many years now? The worst part is that if it was better-written, if there was more depth and more believability, then the kernel of humor behind it might work, but that never ever happens.



Puppet Class felt to me like a sketch waiting for a breakout idea that came too late and wasn't strong enough, but MacFarlane committed like a pimp and I did laugh at Kenan's joke THE FIRST TIME before it overstayed its welcome.



Aww, I miss comments about how Seth Meyers yelled at us and had unfunny commentaries that are actually mini-sketches filling the last third. Oh wait, I just did it for you guys, there you have it then.



Price, you know how you just said a thing about avoiding pop culture? That's how I felt with Ryan Lochte, so the joke was lesser-than for me, but MacFarlane did drive it home none the less.



Mimi Morales was so out of place on SNL, I think you're right that it's a stock character trotted out often, it just felt lazy and had nothing to say. Cecily was fine I guess but it wasn't SNL material, and only Pharoah's ability to play to the scene without trying to steal it gets props from me.



Price loves Kenan! Price loves Kenan! That's the only excuse I can find for claiming this shit ended before got stale, it was stale 2 lines into it - doesn't remind me a damned thing of Steve Harvey, reminds me everything of Kenan mugging for the camera like a child imitating Bill Cosby.



Frank Ocean was way into his game of Galaga, that was my favorite part, he was into it for a whole minute or so!



Heh heh, MacFarlane's subtlety about the river that took his son got a sad "aww" out of the audience, that was some great work.



So, Cecily Strong feels like a camera-hog, every scene she was in she was playing big, and that can either mean she's going to be annoying or she's going to tone it down, but either way I suspect she will be out of the show soon and get her own sitcom on Comedy Central or TBS or something. Tim Robinson kinda melted into the background, his mopey face was obvious in his scenes but he only stood out for that, he wasn't bad but he wasn't great, I can see him getting cultivated into something bigger on the show or getting quietly dropped, but not staying at the level he's at now. Aidy Bryant was misused, they at the very least need to give her different hair and get her acting rather than sticking with her safe material.
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Summary of this long post: Seth MacFarlane was great. could have been great but it wasn't. Seth Meyers and Kenan Thompson are the worst.
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Sorry, guess we can't all come up with brilliance like "look at me, I'm like this was great", sheer genius borrowing from a sketch you just saw. Gonna hit us with "party on, Wayne" and "Jane, you ignorant slut" and "what up with that" as well?



Btw, if you want comments on the good sketches, my post would be even longer, so I left em out since they'd just be "remember when Seth MacFarlane was the host and there was that one sketch they did? ... That was, um, that was awesome."
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Hey JT_Kirk, how's that novel you've been workin' on?
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I loved this episode! Seth MacFarlane was freaking hilarious. The musical guest was horrible.
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Love the detailed review of SNL. Keep doing this.
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It was okay, didn't blow me away with laughter. Was amusing, but I sure as hell didn't burst out in laughter!
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overall this episode was good... very interesting to see Seth in a different role - live. I want to see more... he's a very talented guy, i bet he would do well in improv/sketches.
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Bill hader and his intense puppet!..that sketch might keep me entertained for the rest of the season...



"are u guys friends?"



When i saw Hader's look i was reminded a bit of Will Forte's Hamilton...Overall, i loved the premiere it was so ver Go od!!
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John Mayer was there because he guests on the album and the solo he did on the show is straight from the record. The full track is 9 mins so they had to edit it. I'm not a fan of John Mayer but he is a great guitar player.
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I get that you don't like Weekend Update, but just writing "nope" does not constitute a review!
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I think he doesn't like Seth Meyers.. specifically
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This site lost "reviews" a long time ago, regrettably. Now it's pictures and funny captions.
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I hated:

-Jay Pharoah's Obama, waay too much focus on the tiny breaks between words, not much else.

-The opening credits, such a weird mixture of the new blue stuff, and the old thing we're used to. Would have been way better if they dropped the old parts and completely redid the credits.

-Rodger Brush

-Steve Harvey



Other than that it was great, Seth MacFarlane was hilarious, it was nice not seeing Kristen Wiig play every female character, (Even though she is fantastic) and Puppet Class was my favorite sketch.
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Much Music (up here in Canada) has been airing SNL episodes from the early to mid 2000's lately. And, while the topical nature of the show certainly has something to do with it, the quality is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was in those years. Even the 'Best of" shows, with some of the classic cast members aren't really that funny. Chris Farley, Mike Myers even Will Ferrell (outside Celebrity Jeopardy) don't stand up to the test of time. I want to add Christopher Walken's best of to the list but the one US Census sketch with him and Tim Meadows might be one of the funniest sketches ever made. Other than that and Cowbell though, nothing even remotely funny. I haven't had the opportunity to watch any of older shows from the 70's and 80's, but I can only imagine that they too have been ravaged by time. Keep up the good work SNL, you'll always be as funny as you've ever been!
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Surprisingly excellent episode. Ryan Lochte was the clear highlight.



The one huge negative is that I absolutely loathed the opening credits. So completely awful and lifeless.
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Cecily Strong is the new favorite character of SNL .. lets hope she doesn't screw up or NBC don't screw her over ..

i am gonna miss digital shorts ..



the overall of this show was nice , i liked the Steve Harvey Show sketch .
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Look at me, I'm like "this was great!"
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It thought that episode was very Go Od.



Price, I thought you would've appreciated Nasim's cut of Seth when she said, "No, don't do Family Guy, we're 30."



Not nearly enough Taran for my liking. He's the best the show has to offer.



Wasn't Bill Hader supposed to be leaving too? Glad to see him back.



I don't get why people like Frank Ocean, his music does nothing for me.
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There was no rumor about Hader leaving. The rumor was Jason Sudekis was leaving at the end of last season, but he ended up staying.
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