‘Saturday Night Live’ Premiere Review: Did the New Cast Sink or Swim?

Published 2 years ago by

snl season 39 premiere tina fey Saturday Night Live Premiere Review: Did the New Cast Sink or Swim?

Last night kicked off what will be the biggest transitional season for Saturday Night Live since 1995. The show has added six new featured players to the cast (as well as a few new writers) to help replace Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Fred Armisen; but rather than bury the newbies behind host and SNL alum Tina Fey or returning talents like Vanessa Bayer and Taran Killam, Lorne Michaels threw the new kids into the deep end of the pool to see if they could swim, resulting in decent – but not yet stellar – results.

Among the highlights: a surprisingly funny double-shot of self-referential humor that allowed SNL to take on the “rebuilding season” room elephant.

Tina Fey obviously had the authority to sell the rookie hazing bit that called for her to mock the new cast while they stripped down to degrading gold lamé shorts and danced during the monologue, but Keenan Thompson did not in a later game show sketch that asked Fey to tell the difference between a new featured player and a member of Arcade Fire, the musical guest.

Thompson is a versatile performer, but as he enters his 11th season, it seems like he’s followed in the footsteps of Tim Meadows and Darrell Hammond. Both of those men had long careers on SNL, but with the exception of Hammond’s Bill Clinton impression, neither really stood out for more than their durability. Was it funny when Thompson yelled at new cast member Kyle Mooney for trying to participate by doing a quick funny voice? Yes, but it was much funnier when Michaels made an onscreen appearance and pretended to not know Thompson, mostly because one can imagine casual fans of the show making the same mistake.

Right now, there is no senior cast member that stands out as the unquestioned leader of the show in the way that Hader and Sudeikis did. That’s a bit scary, but it could also be a boon to the show as the whole cast races to capture that flag.

snl season 39 premiere weekend update Saturday Night Live Premiere Review: Did the New Cast Sink or Swim?

Speaking of Mooney, he did get a chance to stand out later in the show during Weekend Update when he introduced us to Bruce Chandling, a parody of a stand-up comic. The character was a part of Mooney’s pre-SNL repertoire, but the debut was slightly groan inducing and it may not be ready for primetime.

There’s no doubt that Cecily Strong is ready for a bigger role on SNL this season. Her character work made an impact last season, particularly the “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party” character that cracked the Weekend Update rotation, but as Strong takes over the Weekend Update co-anchor chair, it’s clear that there are going to be some growing pains. For one thing, Strong lacked the semi-serious tone needed to punctuate what are, essentially, super silly news stories.

Longtime Update anchor and soon-to-be Late Night host Seth Meyers is a master of this kind of delivery, selling the last inch of every joke. He has become one of the most well-regarded Weekend Update hosts of all time because of this, but in their first pairing together, the two seemed far apart. No one expected this to look like Meyers and Amy Poehler on the first night, but there is clearly work to be done, especially since the Seth Meyers safety net is going to disappear in the very near future.

Aaron Paul on the SNL Season Premiere Saturday Night Live Premiere Review: Did the New Cast Sink or Swim?

Strong did, however, appear in what is becoming one of SNL‘s best and most absurd recurring sketches – nearly nonsensically shilling Manolo Blahnik shoes with her fellow former pornstar cohort (as played by Vanessa Bayer), so it’s not like she dragged the show down.

Other standout sketches included a Girls parody that saw Fey play a grizzled Albanian woman named Blerta beside rookie cast member Noel Wells’ solid Lena Dunham impression, and a pre-recorded faux commercial for an electronic meth cigarette. That bit was the best of the night even before Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul popped up to endorse the product, thanks to geeked out, sailor hat-wearing, and pantsless performances from Killam, Kate McKinnon, and Brooks Wheelan, respectively. Paul was practically the unofficial co-host last night, popping up in two sketches and on Weekend Update where he played Meth Nephew beside Drunk Uncle. I wonder what he’s promoting.

Next week’s host and musical guest is Miley Cyrus (because the twerking joke well has run dry and must be replenished). And while there’s always the possibility that Michaels and company will pull a guest star or two out of thin air, unlike this week where Tina Fey delivered a polished comedic performance as host and chaperone, the SNL cast will mostly be on their own with the comedically green Cyrus.

Will they struggle? Perhaps, but after watching the season 39 premiere, it seems like this surprising all-hands-on-deck approach may provide enough energy to smooth out the rough spots and make this a sneakily good season.


Saturday Night Live airs Saturday nights @11:30pm on NBC.

Photos: Dana Edelson/NBC

Follow Jason Tabrys on Twitter @jtabrys
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  1. Wow, I can’t believe this is already Bobby Moynihan’s 6th season. He still feels like a new guy. Hilarious and incredibly talented, but damn…we probably only get to have one or two more seasons left with him.

    • I couldn’t agree more and I think about that every Moynihan is on.

      • *time

  2. Norm McDonald ruled Weekend Update.

    • At the time of Norm’s firing, Chevy Chase said that Norm had been the best one to do the weekend update since he (Chevy) left. Or so the Germans would have us believe.

  3. “Strong lacked the semi-serious tone needed to punctuate what are, essentially, super silly news stories.”

    And that’s what made A Touch Of Cloth so brilliant. Ridiculous things being said but acted as if it were a real police drama.

    “I can’t, you’re a lesbian.”

    “Bi, Jack.”


    *Jack Cloth walks away*

  4. This was a very shameful premier for SNL; just awful.
    Fey did her best (Blerta & the crazy were great) but the show fell seriously flat.
    Weekend update had a Rocky start, but eventually found its new stride. Strongs bit about OJ was hilarious & Drunk Uncle always delivers.

    I’m just reminding myself of the last rebuilding year, when they replaced 90% of the cast. That’s when we got Will Ferrell, and that premierwas tterrible too…so I still have hope for the future…

    …but no hope next week. Waiting on Timberlake week!!

  5. Well, we knew it was gonna be a bit rough. Although I still enjoyed a fair amount of the show and Tina Fey is always awesome. It was smart to have her host but I worry what it’s going to be like when they have a weak host. There’s not going to be anyone to really carry the show and that’s not gonna be pretty. Though I’ll still watch, of course!

  6. It is good to see that Lorne Michaels continues his legacy of hiring a diversity of unfunny white people.

  7. Chick in top picture looks cute and wants me.
    Bring back Martin Short.

  8. Really weak premiere. The only laugh I got was “Drunk Uncle”, the rest of the show was really tame and flat. One more thing, what’s with all the new dudes? One new chick? Hopefully things will perk up.

  9. When I finished Jason’s rvw I had to double check to confirm he was not writing for NBC. I am sooooo disappointed in this season opener. I found much of the “humor” degrading and offensive. Nothing sharp or intellectually provoking as in the case of many of the years of their best satirical humor. This show has flatlined. If I were a Will Ferrell, Justin Timberlake or Steve Martin … I’d steer clear just to avoid getting some on me. Yuk! Remorsefully, a fan of MANY years.

  10. Surprised Michaels didn’t show a little diversity with new cast members. All white? C’mon! How bout some Asian, Latino members?

  11. Not funny at all. Strong was terrible. Only way is up I guess because they are starting at the bottom.

  12. I disagree with what you said about Keenan. People definitely know who he is, and his most memorable character on that show is Deandre Cole, from the what’s up with that sketches.

  13. Keenan walking with the oversized carry-on bag was hilarious. Strong supporting O.J. on Weekend Update cracked me up. Pharoah was great once again as President Obama. Fey torturing “the featured players” in the monologue was fantastic. And Lorne calling Keenan “the black one” saved that skit.

    I’m a casual viewer who watches normally based on the host or if something major happens in the news, I want to see how they satirize the event. I’m a fan of Fey and I was interested in how SNL would handle this cast shake-up. They did something I wasn’t expecting and straight-up addressed the new cast and called it a “rebuilding” year. This episode reminded me of the first few episodes of Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip. I’m looking forward to watching more…after the Miley Cyrus episode of course.

  14. Game show sketches just won’t be the same without Bill Hader as the host.

  15. The show was dreadful. For someone who has watched SNL since it’s inception, this is the least talented group EVER. Last night I felt that SNL died . Andy Samburg was so bad alone, without his old SNL sidekicks. What an in auspicious ending to a really good year. Find some talent before SNL will be forced to close shop.

  16. I’m sorry but ever since Chris Farley passed, nothing has been as funny. Nobody even comes close. What I see time after time on SNL is low level writing. Low level jokes. Nothing well thought out, creative or unique. There must be someone left who can come up with something besides potty mouth jokes and relying on hip hop music to cover the comic ineptitude.