Monday Morning (or Tuesday Afternoon) Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 1

Posted by Jesse September 28th, 2010 at 03:32pm In SNL

I realize that Saturday Night Live probably spends a lot of time in a “transitional” phase, especially considering that since the mid-nineties there hasn’t been the kind of cast shake-up that used to occur about every five or six years. Since the 1995 overhaul that introduced Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, and Darrell Hammond, among others, cast changes have been more gradual. A near-complete turnover from that cast didn’t really happen until 2003, when Ferrell and Chris Kattan left in quick succession, still leaving Darrell Hammond, and cast members added between ’95 and ’00 were still going strong in 2005 when Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, and Kristen Wiig jumped on. Since then, new cast members have seemed minor, performing in the shadow of still-popular mid-decade additions.

That said, the Amy Poehler-hosted season opener of SNL seemed like a particularly transitional episode. Newcomer Jenny Slate is gone, as is long-timer Will Forte, while Nasim Pedrad, Abby Elliott, and Bobby Moynihan receive promotions and aging cast members Fred Armisen and Kenan Thompson remain, at seasons eight and seven, respectively. Four new cast members have been added, perhaps in expectation that Armisen, Thompson, and even some of the 2005 crew may be departing soon.

To confuse matters further, relatively recent cast departure Poehler returned to host and brought cameos from Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph. No one in the actual cast appeared in the first post-monologue sketch, with Poehler and Rudolph reviving Bronx Beat, a sketch that seems like it’s been revived as often as it was actually done when both women were cast members, with Katy Perry playing the busty guest, in a mildly clever nod to her Sesame Street ban.

Bronx Beat as a whole is not the most inspired first sketch of a new season, but it’s enjoyable to watch simply for how well Poehler and Rudolph know these characters, and how much of the humor is in pure dialogue and delivery, not “funny” behavior. As far as revived Poehler characters, I prefer the petulant one-legged cretin Amber, brought back as a character on a Showtime series — a funny premise, though it wasn’t the most hilarious Amber outing.

That applies to most of the material on Saturday’s premiere: pretty amusing, rarely the best example of its form. Bronx Beat and Amber provided okay recurring characters (not so much with Fred Armisen’s surly old guy producer character; funny on paper, less so in repeated sketches); the Digital Short was suitably bizarre but not top-tier; the fake ads for pubic hair transplants and The Even More Expendables were good enough shots at east targets; the “tiny hats” bit was funny and weird, but not on the level of, say, last year’s potato chip sketch.

The best material was quick: an ad for the “Ground Zero Mosque” merrily trumpeting gay weddings and more, revealed to be Republican fear-mongering; and “Actor II Actor” with Andy Samberg screaming at Justin Timberlake (another cameo!) about getting back to music. Oh, and Poehler’s monologue with all of those cameos was funny, but then, Poehler, Dratch, Fey, and Fallon tend to be pretty funny together. Update, as usual, was quite good, and newcomer Jay Pharoah did a killer Will Smith impression. (He has an Obama impression too! Please, please let him use it! Far better impressions than Armisen’s have been unceremoniously retired!)

So: a mostly funny episode, but with sort of a clearinghouse feel; it would’ve felt better as a mid-season break — bring in Poehler and her buddies to do some heavy lifting while the regular cast rests. Instead, we’re left waiting to figure out how this new mutation of the cast will gel.

But hey, if you want to hear some alarmist silliness combined with some awful, awful advice, Flavorwire is there for you!

Grade: B-

1 Comment

  • 1. sara  |  September 29th, 2010 at 10:31 am

    I loved the two David Patersons on Update, but that’s really the only use I have for Fred Armisen now. I’m sick of his deaf producer routine, and never really liked his Obama impression. I say give it to the new guy!


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