Saturday Night Live kicked off its 40th season tonight with a great host, a leaner and more focused cast, a committed musical guest and – unfortunately - a very uneven handful of sketches.
Guardians Of The Galaxy star Chris Pratt brought his effervescent charm and boundless enthusiasm to the Studio 8H stage, and it was his glowing and magnetic personality that saved the night from being a total loss.
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That's not to say that none of the sketches were good. The sketches that worked really, really worked, and the ones that didn't seemed to bomb hard.
The night started off with a cold open that was a bundle of nervous energy and fumbled lines, even from SNL vet Aidy Bryant. The sketch featured Bryant as CNN anchor Candy Crowley grilling two former NFL players on their past legal complications while Pratt starred as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
While SNL has always taken on political and social scandals in their cold open sketches, this particular one felt rushed and the handful of stepped-on lines set the tone for the first half of the episode.
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Even Pratt's musical monologue and hilariously, bizarrely erotic banter with his wife Anna Faris seemed to suffer from a sort of haphazard air of panic.
However, Pratt scored a win with a hugely funny sketch that involved him and cast member Taran Killam as He-Man and Lion-O toys that came to life by the power of a lonely child's wish. It was a chance for Pratt to show off his now-famous abs, and to have beloved 80s characters make stupid, but very funny sex jokes. Ariana Grande even made a cameo as She-Ra.
Another home run for the episode was a pre-recorded segment called Marvel Can't Fail. Since Guardians Of The Galaxy did so well, Marvel is convinced people will see anything they put out, so upcoming Marvel movies include Bus People, Pam, Fancy Ghosts, and Pam 2: The Winter Pam, among others.
Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett produced one of the night's highlights with their Roomates sketch. It's a too-cheesy-for-words parody of bad 80s moral-lesson TV shows. It's hard to explain what makes it so funny, but intentional bad acting, a horrible laugh track and a metric ton of meta-humor made this one of the night's best sketches, and likely the most under-appreciated.
There's no point in dwelling on the negative, since it was hardly ever Pratt's fault when the sketch was bad, but the terribly unfunny and downright sad Animal Hospital sketch, which involves heartless veterinary clinic receptionists gleefully telling people that their pets are dead, needs to be put out of its misery. This is not the first time the sketch has been attempted, and each time it's been an uncomfortable failure.
As for Weekend Update and it's new host Micheal Che, there is a lot of potential with the new dynamic between Che and co-anchor Colin Jost. Unfortunately, it still needs a lot of polishing. Also, with Cecily Strong out of the anchor chair she's free to play The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party, and that's one of Update's strongest cast characters.
Also, new cast member Pete Davidson made his SNL debut by performing what was essentially a stand-up routine that might have been the funniest part of the whole episode. It's graphic, to say the least, but it's about that old philosophical question that asks how much money would it take for you to do something you… wouldn't necessarily want to do. Specifically, sexual stuff. We can't really get into it here, but its astonishingly funny. Check out the NSFW routine here.
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Also, there were a number of sketches that aren’t mentioned here because they didn’t stand out for being painfully bad or especially strong. It was that kind of night. NBC has most of the sketches streaming online if you want to check them out.
Finally, Ariana Grande was the musical guest and she was perfectly fine. The songs were well-executed, her voice was strong, and she seemed like she wanted to be there. It was so even keel it almost felt boring. However, her consistency provided a nice balance to the uneven episode.
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On October 11, former long-time cast member Bill Hader will be returning as the show's host. It's always strange when a recent cast member comes back as host, because they are so used to performing on SNL, and the audience is so used to seeing them, it's almost as if the episode doesn't have any host at all. But people will be eagerly tuning in to see what classic impressions and characters Hader reprises.
Despite hiccups, Pratt did end up being a very solid host for the premiere of SNL's 40th season. Check out this behind-the-scenes video with Pratt as he gears up for his SNL debut.