Without anything to promote, Tina Fey's appearance as host for the season premiere became something between a substitute-teaching gig and a favor to her old pal Lorne Michaels. With six (!) new featured cast members, one new Weekend Update host, and the task of re-shaping the show's identity in a post-Hader/Armisen/Sudekis world, it became clear that Fey's presence was needed to help usher in yet another new era at SNL. As she noted in her monologue, it's not like she's got this huge stable of recurring characters to bring back (heeey, Kristen Wiig). She was mostly there to give her blessing, on behalf of The Show's History, to these new kids, and she did so not once but twice.
If the episode felt a bit sputtering as a result, that's understandable. Of the new cast members, only Noël Wells and Mike O'Brien stood out much. And now that there's such a vacuum at the top of the male half of the cast, the absence of Jay Pharoah in any sketch not involving Obama is even more glaring. After three seasons, I still don't know if I have an answer to the question "Is Jay Pharoah Funny?" and that is a problem.
Grim Dedication to Format of the Week
I suppose cold-opening the show with anything other than a current-events sketch would rob the show of some of its cachet as a source for time-capsule social satire, but boy, can you ever feel it when a sketch is more obligatory than anything else. Whether or not Obamacare is overly convoluted, it sure isn't fun to talk about in a comedy setting! The sketch succeeds best when it's just letting ordinary people be obnoxious about their ignorance and irresponsibility. Aidy Bryant was a particular delight in a short drive-by ("I've stopped washing my hands, and I'm licking hella subway poles!"), as was Kate McKinnon's chain-smoking, exasperated ER doctor, who just wants people to stop putting things up their damn butts. I don't suppose they could have done anything funnier with Taran Killam's Ted Cruz? Anything on the filibuster? Nothing? I'd get into the subject of the Aaron Paul cameo, but luckily I will have MANY more chances to address that over the course of the episode.
This Week's Regret You Didn't Know You Had
Look, I'm not even sure what Queef Latina's character would have been like. But man, did I ever want to see her ruin Christmas. Tina's monologue was the first of several overt attempts by the show to acclimate the audience to its six new featured players in this "rebuilding year" (though, interestingly, neither of those attempts involved us learning their names). As a link to the show's past, Tina explained the time-honored tradition of newbies taking part in the hosts' musical numbers, as background dancers. Cue the gold lamé bike shorts!