Original Air Date: 9/28/13, NBC; S39E1
According to Tina Fey’s plastic surgeon, this year is a “rebuilding year” for Saturday Night Live. Long-time standouts such as Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis, and Bill Hader left the show at the end of last season, leaving some big shoes to fill, and though there wasn’t too much to see of the new cast, there’s definitely great potential for this season and the seasons that follow.
The new cast includes Beck Bennett (the guy from the little-kid AT&T ads), along with John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noel Wells, and Brooks Whelan.
In fact, the season debut mostly did a good job of simultaneously introducing the new cast and hazing them. Tina Fey’s opening monologue had the new cast members dance in gold dazzle spandex. The best self-referential part of the show came when Kenan Thompson hosted a game show skit called “New Cast Member or Arcade Fire?” and after Tina Fey failed to identify the third new cast member from “one of the musicians featured four times on the show,” Lorne Michaels was pulled in as a lifeline, only to guess that Kenan was the new member.
The episode was also heavy on the Breaking Bad nods, with Aaron Paul appearing for several skits, including the meth-themed “Emeth” advertisement, mocking the concept of electronic cigarettes by giving them a meth twist—especially when Taran Killam pulls out one of his teeth and says, “See? Perfectly white.”
Tina Fey did a good job as host, performing well as odd-ball characters in an off the wall Girls parody in which she played a new character from Albania, and a psychopathic car salesman’s wife in the world’s first used car ad. She was also great playing a feminist football coach mentor to Cecily Strong’s first night as Weekend Update co-host. Strong will succeed Seth Meyers in the spring as Meyers will take Jimmy Fallon’s place on Late Night.
I was underwhelmed by Arcade Fire. While they pulled out their trademark techno-funk sound, I must say their first song, “Reflektor,” was flat-out weird. Win Butler’s vocals were pitchy and Regine Chassagne’s sojourn to the proverbial reflective glass box resembled a scene left out from Spinal Tap, or a bizarre 80s Kate Bush music video.
Their next song, “Afterlife,” was more balanced but forgettable. After the show, Arcade Fire went on to perform on an NBC special that showcased their new album, which you can watch here.
“Girls”: Vanessa Bayer, Kate McKinnon, and Noel Wells did great impressions of the Girls cast, while Tina Fey’s incongruous appearance as an Albanian live-in was very effective as a parody of the popular series.
“Airport”: In a nod to the zaniness that defined the Airplane! movies, this airport boarding sketch was laugh-out loud hilarious. From the boarding of “parents with small children and children with small parents” to “now boarding X-Men First Class, and then X-Men Business Class,” to Kenan Thompson’s simply gargantuan carry-on bag, this skit was a bona-fide winner.
“Weekend Update: Drunk Uncle”: The return of Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle on Weekend Update maintained some continuity with the recurring characters, and he had some genuinely funny moments, especially when he brought up “twerking” and “Blurred Lines”—the blurred lines of the U.S.-Mexican Border.
“Cold Open: Obamacare”: The Cold Open, though not spectacular, gave us an effective highlight reel of the returning cast while introducing some new members. I appreciate the effort the skit went to recap many events from over the summer, highlighting the public’s confusion over Obamacare, Ted Cruz reading Dr. Seuss during his filibuster, and of course, the public’s preoccupation with the series finale of Breaking Bad.
“Cinema Classics” and “Used Car Commercial”: I have a soft spot for the “Cinema Classics” skit and the “Used Car Commercial.” While not incredible, the skits managed to be weird enough (the old movies invaded by absurd taxidermy? C’mon, you had to crack a smile when Tina stood next to the squirrel holding a basketball.) And I loved how the Used Car Ad incorporated jokes about the variety of vehicles one could purchase in the early 20th century. “[We sell] every brand there is… Model T!” I don’t know; I’m just a sucker for that stuff.
“Weekend Update: Bruce Chandling”: Kyle Mooney was unspectacular in his first spot on Weekend Update as a lousy stand-up comic, but we expect that with familiarity he’ll grow on us and continue to improve.
“Monolo Blahnik”: The porn stars skit (this time advertising for Monolo Blahnik; interpret the inevitable puns as you will) was funny and well-made for continuity of past skits but was a little underwhelming, lacking the punch that Jamie Fox, Justin Timberlake, and Ben Affleck had when they were in the skit. I think this running joke is a little well-worn and needs a break.
From Weekend Update: “Amazon.com just released a new Kindle Fire that has a Mayday button which allows users to immediately connect to customer service. Barnes & Noble’s new Nook has a feature that makes it throw itself into the garbage.”
A wonderfully enjoyable debut, easily better than many episodes from last season. Though I missed the likes of Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis, and Bill Hader, I look forward to seeing the new cast more often, especially as they grow in confidence.