SNL Review: 40.1

SNL’s 40th season got off to a pretty good start this week. Here’s a recap:

A fairly average episode, but still solid. The opening with Aidy Bryant making a return as Candy Crowley, this time hosting her show State of the Union, was pretty good. My only negative about this is that Jay Pharaoh’s impression of Shannon Sharpe has become over-the-top cartoonish, to the point where it no longer makes any comedic sense. Host Chris Pratt appeared as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Pratt was immediately back to the stage for his monologue, and he was as charming as you’d expect. His wife, Anna Ferris, was in the audience. They had sex and a baby popped out! It’s true!

A filmed commercial followed, for Cialis Turnt, which was pretty funny.

The first skit of the night was an oddball one, on the ridiculous side. A boy (Kyle Mooney), all alone on his birthday, makes a wish that his toys would come to life so he’d have someone to play with. His wish comes true, and He-Mann (Pratt) and Lion-O (Taran Killam) appear. The skit is bizarre but funny. The two toys don’t know anything and have to be taught. They like cake, and they like touching their private parts. They like Sister. Bring Sister back! But then Mom (Aidy) shows up, and the toys decide they like Mom. Mom says “You may have blown out the candles, but mama’s wish done come true!”

The second skit was a return to Animal Hospital, a premise that debuted last year. It’s a funny skit about the worst place you could ever take your pet, because they’re going to end up dead. Kate MacKinnon, Cecily Strong and Pratt play the three hospital employees who are completely clueless to pet owners’ pain.

A filmed piece advertising Marvel’s upcoming blockbuster movies (Ant-Man, Bus People, Shopping Carts, Fancy Ghosts, etc) was pretty funny. It’s the sort of thing that SNL usually does well.

The musical guest, Ariana Grande, makes her first appearance. Umm … is it just me? Could anyone understand what the hell she was saying in this song? I don’t even know what the song is called because I couldn’t make out words in her mush-mouth delivery. But that’s okay, because I really didn’t like the song anyway.

Weekend Update – No matter what else happens in the episode, this is the bit that I wait for, especially with the debut of a new anchor. Here’s my take: I like Colin Jost. I really do. But his delivery is kind of flat. That’s okay when he’s paired up with someone who exhibits a bit more personality, and Cecily definitely had that. Update went through a bit of a renaissance about 14 years ago, when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey took over. Lorne Michaels had them play it not as a spoof of a serious news show, but as two hip smart alecks commenting on and reacting to the news in an anchor setting, and it was a huge hit. It revitalized Update and made it once again the jewel in SNL’s crown, as it had been in the 70s and again during Dennis Miller‘s time. I felt that Cecily Strong fit nicely in that mold. And after Seth Meyers left and she was paired up with Jost, his somewhat flat delivery made a nice contrast. But the addition of Michael Che has not improved the situation, as his delivery was rather lifeless as well. The only time the two of them perked up was in the silly “Cheer Up, Obama” segment at the very end, and even then, they both seemed uncomfortable doing it. However, the material was mostly really good (there were no clunkers) and was no joke was lost because of delivery. The Update desk had three visitors this week. The first was The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party, which was a very welcome return, and the only plus (as far as I can see) about Cecily not being an anchor any longer. My only knock on this one is that it sounded like she was using her “Not a porn star anymore” voice. Second was writer Leslie Jones, her second outing. She’s always big, loud and funny, and this time she was able to do her bit without offending an entire race of people. Last was new featured player Pete Davidson, who delivered a very funny piece about going down on a guy for a million dollars. Not because he’s gay, but because he’s a business man. “If you don’t go down on a guy for a million dollars, you obviously don’t care about your family.” He knocked it out of the park. It reminds me that last year, in the first episode, there was a feature piece with newbie Brooks Wheelan about his tatoos. It was cute, there were some chuckles. This was a much more successful introduction to a new kid. Update this weekend was 17 minutes; I’m a big fan of Update being the longest and most substantial piece of any episode.

The new skit was one of the standouts of the night, a spoof of Nicki Minaj’s horrible HORRIBLE song “Anaconda”. It really is atrociously awful. But this skit made fun of it in a really clever way, with Aidy singing about her BIG FAT ASS. Hilarious.

This was followed by a filmed piece by Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett, featuring Pratt, in the style of an NBC Afternoon Special. It was really odd but cute in its own way. Kyle is the natural successor to the Lonely Island films from the previous few seasons and is definitely earning his keep.

The skit about NFL accountability, where each player in the game introductions gives his name and his criminal offense, was rather funny. The featured Beck and Taran as announcers with all the other male cast members appearing as players on both teams (along with Leslie Jones as the wife of one of them, scoring the biggest laugh of the skit).

Ariana Grande does her second song, and honestly I paid little attention.

The final skit was another oddball. Bobby Moynihan, Sasheer Zamata and Pete Davidson are three kids test playing a new video game. The game play is “stupid easy”, and at the end of each level, the two on screen characters have hardcore makeout sessions.

For the most part this was a very enjoyable episode. I was sorely disappointed that there was no tribute to Don Pardo (though they did use a photo of him at one of the commercial breaks.

Next week – Sarah Silverman with Maroon 5.

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