How was your summer? Was it totally chill? The thing is, no matter how many new pairs of jorts you broke in, there’s no way your summer was anywhere near as fun as Chris Pratt’s. Long beloved as a dense kind of goofball on Parks and Recreation, the actor’s turn as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy was a cinematic highlight of the season. It also helped usher the potentially laughable franchise (more on that in a minute) into the upper echelon of moneymaking movies. At this very moment, somebody wearing a fantastically expensive suit is discussing the financial future of Star-Lord & Co. with utmost gravity. You know who didn’t exactly love everything about summer 2014, though? The junior members of the Saturday Night Live cast.
God and Lorne Michaels work in mysterious ways. Even so, it was still pretty clear what the latter was up to last year with SNL’s 39th season. As heavy hitters like Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Fred Armisen departed, Michaels overpopulated the show with new talent to the point where not everybody could possibly stick around for season 40. Lo and behold, the summer hiatus proved deadly — and not just for irreplaceable show announcer, Don Pardo, who sadly passed away. Good-bye, Brooks Whelan, Noel Wells, Mike O’Brien, and John Milhiser — we hardly knew ye! May your post-SNL careers be more Jenny Slate and less Yvonne Hudson! But after months of us having to stage weekend sketch comedy at home, converting our own bedrooms into makeshift What’s Up With That sets, SNL is back, with baby-faced stand-up Pete Davidson joining the ranks, staff writer Michael Che landing the Weekend Update desk, and Pratt at the helm. Let’s talk about how everybody did!
Nobody expected last fall’s Josh Hutcherson–hosted episode to be among the best of the season. Moment of silence for how weird it is that that happened. One of the highlights of that episode, though, was the Animal Hospital sketch, which made a welcome return last night. Pratt ably subbed in for Hutch as one of three wildly insensitive staffers at a vet office that inexplicably kills all its patients. While this sketch certainly might’ve proven traumatic to anyone whose bird got “birdered” over the summer, most everyone else probably welcomed its pet gallows humor.
Considering that every new cast member’s head rested upon an enormous chopping block all summer long, imagine how good it must’ve felt to be one of the Good Neighbor guys. Not only did the digital short crew consisting of Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett not get fired, their erstwhile comrade-in-arms Nick Rutherford joined the show as a writer. In the group’s seasonal opening salvo, they pretty much stick to the script they honed last year, which is absolutely fine. “Bad Boys” runs through the beats of a typical sitcom episode, with just enough off to tip its hand. The intrusive guitar stings, random second unit shots, and weird blocking appear beamed in from every half-forgotten early-’90s show to somehow last seven years. It’s a credit to Lorne Michaels’ vision that he still finds weird pieces like this funny enough to air. Also, it’s an act of kismet how well Chris Pratt fits into these guys’ world.
Speaking of Pratt, it wasn’t long ago that the idea of him starring in an esoteric comic book movie alongside a snarky raccoon sounded like turning point in some kind of Where Are They Now retrospective. Instead of that grim fate, though, it’s the highest-grossing movie of the year. This fake trailer makes ungentle fun of that film’s unlikely success by showing other ostensible Marvel projects in a similarly random vein. We start off with Creatures of the Cosmos, which contains a patina of plausibility, and keep going straight on through to crazy town, population: Marvel’s Fancy Ghosts. Using the same music and setup from the Guardians trailer each time out is an inspired move that makes each revelation funnier and funnier.
He-Man and Lion-O
Keen observers of the Toy Story trilogy may have noticed that these movies all present the optimal scenario for toys coming alive. This sketch takes a look at an alternative outcome. Here, a young boy’s He-Man and Lion-O action figures become man-size naïfs who ask questions like “Why is cake, Danny?” This sketch would have scored crazy points on hair alone, between Chris Pratt’s Prince Valiant do and Taran Killam’s windswept-cotton-candy situation, but luckily there’s a strong pervy vibe at work too. “I touched this to that part and it felt good,” Lion-o says upon his genitals making contact with a chair, and things spiral out from there until eventually involving Danny’s mom (Aidy Bryant, having a strong opening episode.) Also, musical guest Ariana Grande dons the battle-skirt of a freaky She-Ra, and as Decider points out, bravely allows her right side to be filmed.
Every now and then, a word gains so much cultural cachet that people will manufacture whole sentences as an excuse to use it. “I am of the moment!” these words scream, from a mountaintop in the sky. Right now, “turnt” is one such word, and all manner of props to SNL’s writers for finding an honest use for it. Cialis: Turnt is apparently a brand of boner-bringer that doesn’t just get the job done, it imbues your sex parts with the spirit of D.J. Snake. In demonstrating how well these pills work, this commercial parody gifts us with the sight of Aidy Bryant in a fur vest spraying champagne everywhere like it’s a firehose. “If you’re turnt for more than six hours, congratulations: you’re now legally Lil Wayne.”
CNN State of the Union
Football bad! As this sketch makes abundantly clear in a not particularly inspired way, the NFL kind of has a black eye right now. You know, the thing that happens when you get punched in the face? Pratt gets in laughs where he can with his NFL commissioner Roger Goodell getting sympathy from Michael Vick and unveiling the ill-advised slogan “We fight 4 women” (We fight four different women?)
Aside from touting this season’s hottest new diet, the “Hey, fatass, get into shape so you can be in my movie” diet, Pratt wins with his monologue by channeling Parks and Rec alter ego Andy on guitar, and asking his wife Anna Faris if she remembers when they had sex and a baby popped out. Pratt also very charmingly doesn’t get all the words to the song right.
New onscreen presence Michael Che is nervous right out of the gate, and stumbles over his first words, but his sincere eyebrows and knowing smile seem like they’ll settle in and be a welcome fit alongside fairly new onscreen presence Colin Jost.
It’s kind of an awkward diplomatic move to have Cecily Strong back at the desk she was just removed from to reprise her Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party character, but it’s a spirited outing. This overstuffed Update is also graced by some welcome seated stand-up in the form of sparkplug Leslie Jones grousing about dating, and newest guy Pete Davidson recounting his stance on the How Much Money Would You Go Down On a Guy For? game.
There is an unfortunate tradition at SNL to get a bunch of laughs with Weekend Update and then immediately dead the momentum with a weak sketch right after. This tradition was upheld last night with a go-nowhere premise about shy people flirting through the magic of Nicki Minaj.
Although it improved upon the week cold open, this second NFL-themed bit suffered from its resemblance to the beloved Key & Peele East/West bowl sketches, which are among their most viral moments. It’s not outright plagiarism by any means, but still too close for comfort. Not unfunny, though.
We end the night on a high note, with the focus group for new video game, Puzzle World 6. The joke is that although the gameplay is as Bobby Moynihan says, “stupid-easy” the storytelling that goes along with it involves Teletubb-ish Chris Pratt and Vanessa Bayer in an escalating series of weird makeouts. You can practically see one of the writers cracking up as he or she comes up with this premise at the end of a Red Bull-fieled all-nighter last Tuesday.
All in all, it’s a strong start for this retooled 40th season of Saturday Night Live. Even the clunkers had their moments. By putting both Leslie Jones and Pete Davidson in a nearly 20-minute Weekend Update, Lorne Michaels is showing a lot of faith in the stand-up side of the staff, which will hopefully play out more during this season. (Michael Che and Colin Jost are both talented stand-ups themselves.) Finally, here’s a sincere RIP for Don Pardo, whose long-time duties as announcer acted as anchor for a show that’s inherently fluid in every other regard.