Maya Rudolph, Larry David and Liev Schreiber make surprise appearances -- plus, the cast can't get it back together after a major live television screw-up.
After another wild summer in the White House, "Saturday Night Live" definitely had impeachment on the mind as it kicked off its 45th season.
And with them since the beginning is Kenan Thompson -- no wait, that's creator and showrunner Lorne Michaels (for the most part). But Thompson, in his 17th season, does extend his record-breaking run as a cast-member with no signs of slowing down.
This season, he was joined by two more newcomers, as Bowen Yang (who we saw briefly last season when Sandra Oh hosted) and Groundlings member Chloe Fineman both had a great first outing with the cast.
And they got to rub noses with "SNL" royalty as Maya Rudolph also returned for a guest appearance, along with Liev Schreiber and Larry David. The big question for many, though, was if Alec Baldwin was really and truly done with Donald Trump and that answer, apparently, is no.
Maybe he just wants to be a part of history if this impeachment thing actually does anything. For more on that -- way, way, way more -- keep reading and you'll see what "SNL" thinks of the whole thing.
Ironically, the best sketch of the night also had the biggest technical snafu, as it appears the cameras got all mixed up during one segment leading to a stagehand being clearly visible for several seconds, ready to change Aidy Bryant's hair until Aidy (who saw that the camera was on her) waved them off. But from that point on, the sketch was totally derailed.
Ah, live television!
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Cold Open, the regular "Weekend Update" segments and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. 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.
World's Biggest Cheeto
How do you even describe this sketch other than very dark and very predictable. The setup was the grand opening of the World's Biggest Cheeto Museum, as covered by a local news station, and the family who went all in to make this dream (?) a reality. So, what do you think happens? The reactions and commentary throughout just felt too lazy and obvious, literally from the beginning to the end. There was not a single surprise along the way, and no laughs.
So... someone at "Saturday Night Live" is not a fan of "Downton Abbey." But the way they describe the film sounds like the sort of dry, British, nothing-happens sort of film that would clean up at the Oscars. Probably just needed more explosions for American audiences. As a bit, this was a little bit funny, but only about as funny as the fim is (apparently) compelling. Even the impressions weren't clever enough to save it.
MONOLOGUE: Woody Harrelson
After a bit of a bumpy start, Woody found his groove when he ripped off his tux to reveal his _real_evening wear beneath. After that, he got into a monologue that spoofed how hard it is to be careful all the time about what you say and how easy it is to inadvertently offend someone no matter your best intentions. Oh, and probably in the effort to be funny, some people were genuinely offended. It wasn't biting, cutting edge or hilarious, but more a tepid poke at our politically-correct culture ... because cutting edge is dangerous these days, perhaps?
Kyle Mooney took this '90s rap premise in a funny and then very sad direction, as he pushed his sad sack comedic persona to its ultimate limit. Woody Harrelson portrayed his distracte dad, who was more interested in his phone than his son. Well, he had the kind of revelation you'd expect in a '90s sitcom, but did that make things better? Have you ever seen a Kyle Mooney sketch?
The last sketch of the night was suitably weird, but needed to either be weirder or funnier. Instead, it was just odd and charming and ... well, odd. Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon gave each other the giggles -- which made two breaks on the night for Aidy -- and we only wish we could have shared in it. We did enjoy Woody Harrelson as their farmhand, of sorts, terrified of the local masked teens.
COLD OPEN: Presidential Impeachment
Despite his protestations about continuing to portray President Trump, Alec Baldwin was back in the fake Oval Office to kick off Season 45. And right away, we got proof the show's sharp political satire was in fine form asKate McKinnon's Giuliani assured him in explicit detail that all of their illegal activities and coverup efforts in Ukraine would remain secret ... before revealing he was currently live on CNN. We then got a quick roundtable of our White House usuals, and finally the return of new cast member Bowen Yang as Kim Jong-un (he portrayed the North Korean leader in a sketch last season when he was a writer). It was a great way to slide back into the "SNL" season, full of gentle humor and familiar characters. We even got Liev Schreiber in a bonkers cameo that still somehow made perfect sense.
Wow, this one went from weird to weirder, but Heidi Garder was a lot of fun as Woody Harrelson's way-too-young girlfriend who knows way too much about whatever is seriously wrong with hs "thing" to make it sound like "Mickey Duck." A new twist on the losing game halftime pep talk, this one was actually pretty funny, even if it didn't quite stick the landing.
Featured player Bowen Yang took on presidential candidate Andrew Yang, while Choe Fieman astral-projected into this debate as Marianne Williamson. Colin Jost also stepped outside the "Update" desk to not care how you say Pete Buttigieg. And of course, Larry David is still the only guy to play Bernie Sanders, and Maya Rudolph is perfectly cast as Kamala Harris. Meanwhile Woody Harrelson creeped us all out with those pearly white as Joe Biden. Unfortunately, this sketch took too long (even at short intros) for all but the top four candidates, and really it was only funny once they got into it with them. What we're saying is we wanted way more Larry David in that! He was hilarious every time he opened his mouth.
"I'm sorry to be a grammar Nazi, I know you hate one of those things," Colin Jost said to Trump, while Michael Che suggested that John Wilkes Booth wanted to impeach Kennedy until he found out how long that takes. So yeah, it's safe to say the boys were fired up in their return to the Update desk.
As soon as David Ortiz got shot over the summer, "SNL" fans were waiting to see how Kenan Thompson would address it, and you'll be pleased to know it's business as usual. He's hawking products and running down ridiculous lists. Sometimes we just like our comfort food, and Big Papa is all about that.
A short-and-sweet Update this week nevertheless saw the guys get one over on Newark and Che found a way to lump Jost in with the symbols of white supremacy. Their chemistry continues to improve and this week featured some pretty solid jokes, like their image of the CEO of Juul, as he steps down. It's actually a little disappointing it wrapped up so quickly. Are they looking to shorten Update this season so it doesn't carry as much of the show?
Inside the Beltway
Kenan absolutely carried this sketch that was all about how "ain't nothin' gonna happen" with this impeachment inquiry. After all, ain't nothin' happened with everything else Trump has done and said since he's been in office, so why would that change now? It's a pretty one-note premise for a sketch, but Kenan sells it beautifully with his cheeky delivery and confidence to the point if the whistleblower goes missing, well that might just prove "ain't nothin' gonna happen." Even with a terrible mishap with the cameras during the second flashback broke Aidy for good, it was nevertheless funny.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
It was not a particularly strong opening, and very few of the cast members really had multiple breakout performances. That said, we have to give the nod to the most veteran cast member, as Kenan Thompson brought us Big Papi, a disinterested Guinness World Records judge, an overly interested football player (until it went to far) and the man who summed up the Trump impeachment process the best: "Ain't nothin' gonna happen."
As always, it's exciting to see the new cast-members getting a chance to appear in the season opener -- something Pete Davidson didn't even do -- and Bowen Yang popped up three different times, while Chloe Fineman appeared twice. Both were confident and competent in the live sketch format, commanding their scenes and nailing their dialogue. If their ideas are as sharp as their performances look to be, they could both be in this for the long haul.
All in all, for a season premiere, this one didn't feel as sharp or polished as we've seen in the past. Even Weekend Update seemed to be lacking something. Part of the problem was that they seemed overly focused on the Trump impeachment, coming at it in no less than three sketches and Update itself. We get that it's a big story, but that's a bit of overkill for this early in the process.
Woody Harrelson was solid throughout the night, and he proved he's still got his comedic chops. He even elevated so-so material through the commitment and extra personality he injected into his characters; something Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon also excel at.
Usually, "SNL" comes out stronger after a longer hiatus, but that wasn't the case this time around. Maybe the weekly grind will inspire a more consistent show next week when Emmy-winner and "Fleabag" creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge drops by with musical guest Taylor Swift. Hopefully they let her comedic sense drive some of the content.
"Saturday Night Live" returns next week with host Phoebe Waller-Bridge and musical guest Taylor Swift.
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