NBC's Saturday Night Live had a huge spotlight on it heading into its 46th season-opener. After the previous season ended with a series of COVID-inspired "SNL@Home" episodes, this weekend saw the long-running sketch comedy/music series returning to Studio 8 H in Rockefeller Center. Why was that particularly special? Because SNL was going with a series of health and safety protocols that would allow for a studio audience. In front of the camera, the cast was returning intact and bringing aboard three new feature players- and a recurring cast member in Jim Carrey (Kidding), taking on the role of Joe Biden to Maya Rudolph's Kamala Harris, Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump, and Beck Bennett's Mike Pence. On top of that, you have Chris Rock (Fargo) returning to his old stomping grounds to host, and musical artist Megan Thee Stallion living up to and going beyond her song's title.
So how was it? Not bad, and pretty much what I expected. After being away for so long and then returning to familiar surroundings that aren't as "familiar" as they used to be because of new procedures in place, Saturday night felt like the show needed to get something out there. To exhale. To let the other shoe drop. To move past this so they can start feeling more comfortable as the next four next episodes roll around. So in that regard, it was a solid start that showed promise and had some solid hits- but this was also an emotional high for this NYC-liver. It just felt nice to see a part of NYC's historic core get back to work.
Not to say there weren't some problems, because there were- beginning with Rock. Look, I remember his SNL days and to be honest, he wasn't that great of a sketch comedy actor. Always came across too much like he was reading the cue cards too much. But any time he had a chance to solo, that's where you started to see the beginning of the man he is today. So I didn't have high expectations for him in the sketches, and he didn't disappoint. But his monologue? I'm still not sure what it was exactly. It came across as a rallying cry for- what? That both sides are bad? Down with the government? For people to take control of their government? Excellent. Right there with you. But those are memes and t-shirt slogans when I was expecting more substance. At the end of it, it sounded like even Rock wasn't sure how to tie it all together- I was almost expecting him to default to a "USA!" chant as a parachute.
As for the sketches, I could've done without "Future Ghost" and I hoped "Stunt Performers" was going in a different direction where the trading off of "hits" just keeps getting more and more bloody and violent. The "Super-spreader Event" sketch was about two minutes too long but wins back points because I'm a sucker for name jokes. In fact, most of the sketches could've used with a bit more scissor-work but again, nothing that was so painful we wanted to stab our eyes out (because you know there have been instances of those in the past).
So what did work for us? Let's start with SNL's take on the recent POTUS debate, where Carrey introduced a Biden who was (thankfully) restrained. Rudolph actually found a way to make an excellent portrayal that much better (passing the "closing eyes to figure out who's who" test by a mile), and Baldwin was Baldwin- the best compliment I give someone who knows their character.
Speaking of creepy, dead-on impersonations, how about Chloe Fineman's Drew Barrymore? Fineman's impersonation is so on point that her vocal skills get you to see her as Barrymore. Sound crazy? Maybe, but I hope the Barrymore's show stays on the air so we can get more of this.
All hail Megan Thee Stallion, who hit the SNL stage, tore that shit up and had someone wrap it up and load it onto her jet. We got a small taste of what we were going to get in yet another great comedy song. This time, it was about Kenan Thompson, Chris Redd, and Pete Davidson singing about wanting to see their girlfriends' faces- with Megan Thee Stallion and Ego Nwodim offering a swift response. From there, the musical artist through societal sledgehammer at viewers' screen with the scorched earth messaging in "Savage," and later joined on stage by Young Thug for "Don't Stop." Megan Thee Stallion should be given a musical open-door policy, and a shot to host.
First, much respect for Michael Che and Colin Jost going with the attitude that it is funny that a POTUS who spent months downplaying a pandemic would become a victim of the said pandemic. We're on Che's side: putting aside "morality" (???) for a second, the irony of it alone is oh, so sweet. Their knives felt just as sharp as always, and that kind of comedic bravery in a time where I know they're going to hear about it deserves a mention. Of note, Aidy Bryant's Carrie Krum was a sweet, slightly heartbreaking segment and Bowen Yang's Chinese trade representative Chen Biao was just the right amount of extra for the hour: not too much, but a strong enough performance to keeps eyes focused considering the hour. And much respect for the tribute "Weekend Update" gave to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Kate McKinnon (were assuming) offering her final performance:
I enjoyed "NBA Bubble" more than I had any right too because I'm evil and I don't care. Why am I evil? Because I couldn't help but think of some players watching that and feeling a bit nervous- especially if they're not watching alone. While Rock is solid as the host, it's Rudolph, Bryant, Fineman, Megan Thee Stallion, Heidi Gardner, Lauren Holt, and Punkie Johnson who make it work.