Friday, October 10, 2014

SNL 40.1 Review - Chris Pratt, Ariana Grande

Original Airdate - 9/27/14

Coming into the 40th season of SNL, there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered.  How would the landmark show celebrate its 40th season?  How will the show stay fresh, yet still honor its rich history?  Which of the 8 featured players that debuted in Season 39 would make the cut to Season 40?  And possibly the greatest question of all: how will Lorne Michaels replace Don Pardo, the show's announcer and one true mainstay of the show since day one that passed away over the summer at 96?

Many of those questions were answered in this first episode.  They had two options for host for this first episode of the new season: a classic host with history on the show or a fresh newcomer making his debut on the show.  They opted for a newcomer, and there was no one that deserved the honor more than Chris Pratt.  He has shown over the last few years that he not only is hilarious, but a great actor.  As far as the cast, 4 of the 8 featured players (John Milhiser, Mike O'Brien, Noel Wells, Brooks Wheelen) from last season were no longer a part of the cast (Mike O'Brien moved back to the writing room).  That meant 4 of the 8 featured players (Beck Bennett, Colin Jost, Kyle Mooney, Sasheer Zamata) were back as featured players, with newcomers Michael Che and Pete Davidson joining them.  The final question, and the most intriguing, was answered in the best way possible.  Don Pardo accomplished more for setting the tone for every episode than any sketch would.  When Pardo died, a part of the show's history and tradition died.  They needed someone that could bring something new to the table and not be compared to Pardo while still continuing on the tradition of SNL.  When Darrell Hammond, the longest tenured cast member in the show's history, was announced as Pardo's replacement it only made too much sense.  As for the question about how the show will celebrate it's anniversary season, hopefully the first episode was no indicator as it neither showed any recognition of the show's history, nor showcased any strong sign the show is headed in a strong direction.

Cold Opening

The cold opening is usually reserved for commenting on recent pop culture developments.  This makes the first cold open of the season one of the most interesting as they have a whole summer's worth of pop culture to discuss.  They decided to attack the NFL's recent string of domestic violence.  This line of commentary led to impressions of the evasive Ray Lewis and the cartoon-ish Shannon Sharpe.  This also led to an appearance by Chris Pratt channeling his inner Roger Goodell.  It wasn't a legendary sketch, but it was definitely a strong start to the episode and the season.


Chris Pratt's monologue was the perfect example of why he is one of America's favorite average Joe actors.  After discussing how he is honored to have this opportunity, he pulls out his guitar and sings a simple song that he wrote about his experience.  This included a shout out to his wife, 2-time host Anna Faris.  After stumbling over a couple lines (my favorite being the line about him being up for 40 straight hours), you can't help but love the man.  The show had some serious promise.

Weekend Update

The new anchor combination of head writer Colin Jost and writer Michael Che was debuted this episode, and you could tell it was their first time.  The dynamic between the two showed some promise, but was very stiff and awkward for this first episode.  Jost isn't exactly established, taking over for Seth Meyers halfway through last season, and Che was added to the cast simply to take on this task.  It will get stronger throughout the season as they seem to be trying for some back-and-forth banter much more than Cecily did with either of her co-hosts.  Speaking of Cecily, one of the biggest drawbacks to her anchoring Weekend Update was it meant the end of the Girl You Wished You Hadn't Started a Conversation With at a Party, one of the budding new guests to the Update desk.  Well, in her first episode in a season she wasn't an anchor, they brought back the Party Girl.  They must have really missed her, and it also allowed for Cecily to indirectly show that there were no hard feelings.  She showed once again what makes her such a strong cast member.

Our second guest to the Update desk was Leslie Jones, a new writer to the show making her second appearance at the Update desk.  Jones is hilarious as she brings a brand of comedy to the show with her quasi-stand-up that really nobody else has in the cast right now.  She is a welcome sight whenever she wants to come on and yell at the camera for a little while.

The last guest to the desk was the debut of the newest, and youngest, cast member, Pete Davidson.  Immediately, he showed why he was brought in.  In two minutes, Davidson proved he was naturally funnier than any of the cast members who were not brought back.  It was a little raunchy, but what do you expect out of a 20 year old stand up comedian?

Best Sketch

Although it sounds like the episode was pretty solid from the Cold Open, Monologue, and Weekend Update, those were the only highlights of the first half of the show.  It was really hard to find a regular sketch that had any laughs in it.  There were actually no laughs in the first half the episode after the monologue.  I had to go to the first sketch after Weekend Update to find a sketch that was funny at all.  This sketch had Chris Pratt and Aidy Bryant trying to flirt with each other by using rap lyrics.  They were cheap laughs, but at least they were laughs.

Worst Sketch

There were several contenders for this title from this episode, however the winner has to be the first post-monologue sketch.  This is supposed to be the strongest and best sketch of the night as it sets a real tone for the show.  Well this sketch about a boy who wishes his toys would come to life sure set that tone, but I don't think it was the tone they were meaning to set.  Also, it brought a needless cameo from Ariana Grande way too early in the show.  I don't know what they were thinking with this one.

Dark Horse Sketch

One of the main reasons Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett thrived last year and made it to a sophomore season was their off-beat quirky digital shorts that ended almost every show.  It became something to look forward to at the end of every episode, as it took the prize for Dark Horse Sketch more times than not last season.  Well, in this disappointing season premiere I knew I could count on Kyle and Beck to bring something different to the end of the show once again.  Add to that Chris Pratt, whose brand of comedy fit in a little too well with the duo, and you have not only the quirkiest sketch of the night but possibly the best one.  This sketch channels retro 80's/90's family sitcoms in a bizarre plot and corny music and punchlines.  I don't know why, but the stuff these guys put out just fascinates me in its strangeness.

With the start of a landmark season and one of the biggest funny men in the world right now hosting, this was quite the anticipated episode and disappointed on so many levels.  The majority of the sketches were not funny and the writing was terrible (a trend I was hoping wouldn't continue from last season).  However, worst of all was that it missed so many opportunities to honor the history of the show.  If you are a fan of the show at all, you were probably like me waiting to see how they were going to pay tribute to Don Pardo.  This personality that was a part of almost every episode of the first 39 seasons of SNL got a tribute of a five second screen shot afterthought at the end of Weekend Update just like any other fallen celebrity.  Even if this episode had been top notch, this one fact would have made it a disappointment.  However, the episode was about as bad as this 40th season could have started.


Watch the full episode here:

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