Jason Aldean, who was performing on stage when the tragedy in Las Vegas erupted around him, opened the show this week in lieu of a cold open sketch. He spoke briefly with a powerful statement about America coming together before breaking into a tribute to the late Tom Petty with "I Won't Back Down." It was a poignant combination of two losses with Petty's words standing as tribute to the strength and resilience of the American people in the face of tragedy.
Aldean was a special appearance for this moment, as Sam Smith was the scheduled musical guest, joining host Gal Gadot. The top female superhero in the world brought her star power to "Saturday Night Live," which might have proven an even bigger challenge for her. It's always a little more challenging for celebrity guests without a comedy background to really settle into the groove of absurd sketch comedy, but it's about just cutting loose and letting the process wash through you. Gadot's strategy was more about letting the funny happen around her.
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the cold open and the regular "Weekend Update" segments. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny -- unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week. Also, in these early episodes, we'd like to see if the new kids are getting any screen time. "SNL" recently added Heidi Gardner, Luke Null, and Chris Redd as featured players.
Ranking 'SNL' Premiere Sketches From Worst to First: Ryan Gosling Saves Jazz, LOLs Through Sketches, Loves a ChickenView Story
Monologue - Gal Gadot
Gal went with sincerity to open the show, proclaiming that she was excited that the show was broadcasting live to Israel for the first time. She then spoke directly to her homeland to tell them that the writers are pretty clueless about Isreali culture. When she got to Wonder Woman, Leslie Jones immediately came running out as the Times Square Wonder Woman. The two compared their differences, like Gal having a lasso of truth and Leslie having vodka. It was a way for Gal to not really have to try to be funny at all, leaving Leslie to carry the load as a sketchy Times Square costumed idiot. It was perhaps funnier on paper than it turned out on screen.
Lemonade Stand Mirage
Kenan Thompson is seeing Gadot as his wife's trainer at a lemonade stand. Meanwhile, Beck Bennett is seeing really rude cashiers at the Jamba Juice that was by his work. Props to Leslie Jones as the Jamba manager screaming right into the camera at Bennett's character that his drink was ready. And even more props to "SNL" for their new format with fewer commercials and more pre-taped bits allowing one-note sketches like this to wrap up more quickly than their older format. There's not much to this one, but it ended before it could get too annoying, allowing it to stay charming and fun throughout.
The lines get crossed in a surveillance van where they lose connection with Gadot's spy feed at key moments and instead get connected with Bryant and Cecily Strong doing some kind of weird food/sex fetish channel. It reaches its inevitable conclusion when the surveillance team accidentally wires $40 million into the tip jar of the sexy webcam girls. Yes, it's ridiculous, but Strong and Bryant were so committed to their roles, they managed to make it funny. New featured player Luke Null made a rare appearance in this one as guy at computer.
Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon portray two lesbians who wash up on the island of Themyscira with Princess Diana and the other Amazons and they can't believe that no one there is gay. In the spirit of cooperation, Diana agrees to kiss one of them, and lays a big one on McKinnon, which was clearly the whole point of this sketch. Pete Davidson lamented that he should get to kiss the host in his "Weekend Update" appearance, but McKinnon wins the Emmys so she gets to kiss Wonder Woman. This feels fair, but the sketch itself wasn't all that funny beyond its one-joke premise.
Safelite Auto Glass
This sketch took a quick turn toward the creepy when Beck Bennett's Safelite guy was breaking Aidy Bryant's windshield over and over again because he felt a thing for her daughter, Melissa Villasenor. She was 17 in the sketch, ensuring that viewers would be immediately uncomfortable when he asked her if she was feeling it too. The idea was kind of funny, but it was more cringeworthy than hilarious. Thankfully, it was also short.
The Naomi Show
This talk show parody went for the absurdist and it actually worked by having Heidi Gardner show up as an unruly teenager with Aidy Bryant as her mother. When Kenan Thompson came in as a tough-as-nails sergeant to ask if she wanted him to be her daddy, Heidi's teen jumped on the chance to have a father-figure in her life. Things escalated quickly from there, and before the short sketch wrapped Kenan was part of their family. The premise was absolutely absurd, but it moved quickly enough you just kind of went along with it.
The Chosen One
Pete Davidson makes his first appearance of the season as Chad, the agreeable young guy who says little more than, "Okay." The rest of the cast was overly dramatic in this fantasy piece, contrasting beautifully with his childish ridiculousness. We've seen this character before, but not in such a high fantasy setting, which served to heighten his ridiculousness. Davidson works very well in these pieces playing how much he just doesn't care about expectations put upon him.
The Maiden and the Mice
The princess' mice friend made her a dress when she was in dire straits, but i''s awful. She tries to be nice at first, but the mice are really put out that she's not appreciating their work and commitment. The sparring between the two gets more and more ridiculous until the prince shows up and chooses the mice over the "poor chick." It's another one-note sketch, but the silliness mostly works.
E! New Fall Lineup
This was all about making fun of the Kardashians, with Gal Gadot's Kendall Jenner not knowing which one she was. Another show featured Heidi Gardner doing a pretty spot-on Gwen Stefani in a new show with Blake Shelton. They even made a show about Kanye hiding from the cameras on the Kardashian shows. It was a brilliant takedown of the ridiculousness that is the Kardashians and how they've made E! Even more ridiculous than it already was. The highlight was probably Gadot's picture-perfect Kendall being lost in her house for hours on end.
O.J. Simpson Date
Kenan Thompson played it pretty much like himself as O.J. Simpson on a blind date with a woman from Bosnia-Herzegovina, who may not have heard of his scandal due to the civil war there in the '90s. There were some great subtle jokes sprinkled throughout, like him being given a plastic knife, complaining about when he tried to get his trophies back and even saying he made his own license plate. Gadot played the innocent date with beautiful cluelessness, making the extended joke work even better.
"If you own 47 cats, you are not a responsible cat owner," Colin Jost said, comparing this scenario to gun control in light of the Las Vegas massacre. The government would have no problem taking those cats away from this person, he posited, so why not guns? Michael Che upped the ante by offering one-half inch penis enlargement for each gun turned in. The guys were in great form with their jokes, jabbing at O.J. Simpson, birth control and even AOL. Kate McKinnon's Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who manages to slip in a few Ginsburns at her fellow Justices, and even herself, was another character she commits so completely to you can't help but laugh. Pete Davidson, who recently revealed his diagnosis with borderline personality disorder for real, talked about it on "SNL." "It might make me feel better if I was on TV more," he said, pleading that appearing in more sketches might help...but his sketches suck because they're all written by a depressed person. He closed his appearance with the line, "How have I not been fired?" It was a raw and hilarious appearance that really helped sell his personality and even went behind the scenes of the workings of the show a bit. In recent seasons, this is the crown jewel of "SNL," and it really should be. As "Update" goes, so goes the show.
Player of the Week
Leslie Jones and Aidy Bryant both had strong weeks in an episode that had too many one-joke sketches, and Thompson is always consistent, but it was Pete Davidson who really brought some unexpected laughs with sincerity during his appearance on "Weekend Update." Davidson has often used that chair to talk about his personal struggles, from drugs to mental illness. He marries his truth with humor in a way no one else but Leslie Jones can manage. Paired with his "Okay" appearance earlier in the night, it was a strong evening for a very unique comedic voice in this ensemble.
Next week, Kumail Nanjiani is joined by P!nk on “Saturday Night Live,” airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.