‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Season 40, Episode 1 with Host Chris Pratt

By September 29, 2014
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Summer is over, and fall is upon us as “Saturday Night Live” returns for a milestone 40th season. With all the changes we’ve heard about lately, from the addition of Michael Che to the Weekend Update desk to Darrell Hammond returning to Studio 8H as the show’s announcer following the death of Don Pardo, we knew this was going to be an interesting return for the series, likely with plenty of ups and downs. So let’s get down to the recap of the season premiere with host Chris Pratt.

First of all, it should be said that the opening credits sequence did feel a little odd without the signature voice of Don Pardo doing the honors, and while Darrell Hammond is a fine replacement, he did seem a little quiet and lacking energy. I’m not sure if they need to turn up his mic, or if Hammond was nervous returning to this post, but maybe it’ll be better next time. Anyway, it’s time to look at the sketches.

The Best

 

Marvel Trailer – When you have Chris Pratt, you have to do something acknowledging the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, and since Marvel Studios proved they can make a movie with a talking wise-ass raccoon and a big tree that says only three words into the most successful movie of the year at the box office, that means audiences are ready for everything. Is there anybody out there who wouldn’t pay to see Pam 2: The Winter Pam? That’s what I thought. While the Star Wars ending was cool, it did feel kind of weird and tacked on, but that didn’t ruin this sketch by any means.

 

Booty Rap – Damn, Aidy Bryant knows how to spit some rhymes, doing her best Nicki Minaj as she tries to pick up Chris Pratt at a bar by calling attention to her self-described big fat ass. This is undoubtedly riffing on Minaj’s latest single “Anaconda” which is one of the funniest songs I’ve heard in awhile, and this points out just how ridiculous and unsexy that song truly is. Also, give it up for Chris Pratt rocking a pretty mean rap game as well. This reminded me of last year’s Josh Hutcherson sketch that featured The Outfield song “Your Love,” and I’d love to see more of that.

The Average

 

He-Man and Lion-O – The concept for this sketch was so promising, but unfortunately, it seemed like a one-trick pony with these two action figures come to life just smashing things and touching each other’s crotches. Don’t get me wrong, it was still funny, but it felt like there was so much more potential here. And I’m not sure why they couldn’t pull off a better shot of Ariana Grande as She-Ra, but they should have blocked that much better.

 

CNN State of the Union – Even with less than a passing interest in sports, the headlines and reports about the NFL made this cold open easy to enjoy, especially with Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah nailing these sports personalities. Of the two NFL sketches, this was certainly the better one.

 

Video Game – Here’s another example of a potentially great sketch that wasn’t used to its full potential. This was such a good idea, and there could have been so much more comedy created from the reaction shots of the gamers, but instead the weirdness was pulled back for a joke that we all got the first time. But the reactions that did make it on camera from Pete Davidson and Bobby Moynihan made for some solid laughs.

 

NFL Intros – Putting a spin on the popular Key & Peele sketch running down weirdly-named football players, this one chooses to focus on the variety of crimes that NFL players have committed. They’re an easy target, so this seemed like overkill after the cold open, but seeing scrawny guys like Kyle Mooney, Pete Davidson, and Colin Jost in the line-up was hilarious. But the biggest laugh came from the appearance of Leslie Jones.

The Worst

 

Vet Office – This wasn’t funny when Josh Hutcherson appeared in this sketch last season, and while Chris Pratt did his best to make it work a second time, the joke just isn’t funny. We get it. This vet office is terrible because they kill pets. Moving on.

 

Cialis Turnt – With as fast as the music world moves, especially when it comes to the popularity of songs, this felt like it was months too late. That might sound silly, but when you have a live comedy show that allows you to be relevant every week, doing what’s trendy is important, and “Turn Down for What” is on the way out. This is the equivalent of doing a joke about The World Cup. Too late, folks.

The Weird

 

Bad Boys – In all honestly, this sketch was the best of the night, but it’s down here, because it’s so deliciously odd. Poking fun at the melodrama and video quality of 90s sitcoms, this was so damn funny. It almost felt like something Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim would do on Adult Swim, but Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett have this great sense of more accessible comedy that still allows them to be just the right amount of peculiar. From the editing, poor production quality, and unnatural performances, this was just pure comedy gold.

Weekend Update

 

 

It’s the first time two men have sat at the Weekend Update desk as co-anchors, and things were shaken up even more with Michael Che, a first-time featured player coming from the “SNL” writers’ room, to share the spotlight with co-head writer Colin Jost. Though Che had a shaky start, by the end of the segment, he was moving along pretty smoothly.

From his interaction with Cecily Strong returning as The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party (we’ll get to that) to his final bit with Jost about cheering up President Obama (where they showed off great chemistry), this was a great start to this new formula. I can’t wait to see how it improves.

 

The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party – It’s so great to have this character back, even though it means Strong isn’t one of the co-anchors of Weekend Update anymore. In the end, it will probably be much better for Strong comedically to be able to do characters like this and have more time as a regular cast member without the burden of holding up Weekend Update.

 

Pete Davidson – Man, what a fantastic debut for Pete Davidson. Surely this bit was inspired by his stand-up work, but he was so comfortable and natural in his first appearance on “SNL” that it was leaps and bounds better than when Brooks Wheelan tried the same kind of appearance last year. And this wasn’t the only time Davidson felt right at home since he popped up a couple more times this episode.

The Host

 

Chris Pratt is on top of the world right now, starring in the highest grossing movie of the year, and with a career that allows him to be an action hero and a funny man. He wasn’t one of the best hosts we’ve seen, and he was definitely nervous during his monologue. But the flubs he made, especially during his opening song, didn’t slow him down, and he recovered magnificently. Also, he looked damn good as Princess Leia and He-Man.

The MVP

Saturday Night Live - Michael Che - Pete Davidson

Pete Davidson & Michael Che – As the two new cast members, these guys had a hard time showing off they deserved to be there and jiving with a cast that already has chemistry and professional bonds. Thankfully, as we pointed out earlier, Che quickly got relaxed at the Weekend Update desk and will only get better, and Davidson made a very smooth debut, probably one of the better first episodes we’ve seen from a featured player in a long time. Both of these guys should have a bright future on “SNL.”

The Final Word

It wasn’t a season premiere that went off without a hitch, but it seems like all the changes made before this 40th season premiere have paid off for now. The cast can only get better with time, and bringing in someone popular like Chris Pratt, who also has the comedy skills to make “SNL” run like the well-oiled machine it has become, was the right way to start things off. All in all, there were significantly less bad sketches than good ones, and that’s how it should be.

We’ll be back next week with our recap of the next episode with host Sarah Silverman.

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Ethan Anderton
Some of his favorite films include Ghostbusters, The Empire Strikes Back and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while his favorite TV series include LOST, Mad Men, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Arrested Development and Saturday Night Live.