Saturday Night Live: Chris Pratt and Ariana Grande
September 28, 2014 10:38 AM - Season 40, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Starlord returns to Earth to face his most terrifying ordeal yet -- hosting the 40th season premiere of Saturday Night Live.
posted by Etrigan (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
All in all, a solid effort for a season premiere with mostly returning hands. There was some rust to work off (corpsing that wouldn't have been out of place a few years ago but stands out more now), and Colin Jost still doesn't own Weekend Update the way he should.

The cold open is rare in several ways: it's the first of two skits (plus a couple of jokes in WU) about the NFL's domestic violence problem, it features the host, and it's not political (particularly surprising given that we're in an election year). It worked well, though.

The monologue was strictly by-the-numbers, but good enough. I'm with the AV Club recapper who'd like a moratorium on funny songs in the monologue.

Cialis Turnt set a very high bar for ad parodies.

He-Man and Lion-O was a great use of Pratt and his abs. Between the Cialis ad and the crotch-patting, SNL may be consciously going for a more "adult" feel.

The return of the incompetent veterinary staff was amazing more that they wanted to bring it back than the actual jokes. Let's hope this doesn't herald a return to the old "Run characters into the ground" days.

Marvel movies of the future was a home run. "PAM" killed me; "PAM 2: THE WINTER PAM" brought me back to life and killed me again.

Weekend Update was great except for the hosts. I'll let Che slide -- he's new to the gig, and being a correspondent on The Daily Show is different from being the guy behind the desk. But Jost has shown zero improvement or character. Even when Leslie Jones was trying her hardest to bring him to life, it just wasn't working. But at least we got Leslie Jones, and Pete Davidson had a good stand-up style intro (two such guests on one WU is a little heavy, though). The return of The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party pretty much had to happen, but Cecily didn't hit it out of the park the way she has in the past. Part of that is just how much better Seth Meyers was at working with the guests -- when they bring her out again at the end of the season, Che should be much better at it.

About halfway through Ariana Grande's first song, I turned to my spouse and said, "Wake me up when she finds a consonant." I'm not her demographic, though, and I'm okay with that.

The hip-hop flirt-fest was Aidyriffic. She has stepped her shit up already this year, and she was not in need of it.

Roommates (the Digital Short in all but name) is another Good Neighbor joint -- either you love these or you do not.

The second NFL sketch would have been hilarious if Key and Peele hadn't already done a similar-enough premise. Someone should have had the stones to say "This feels like a ripoff and we can do better."

The ten-to-one was a great ten-to-one, with a Candy Crush style grind-for-points video game app turning into a weird softcore melodrama. There's a recent Slate article about how SNL writers cheat by adding "KENAN REACTS" to a sketch , knowing that his face can really bring home the ludicrosity of a premise. This was one of those sketches. It'll never be a movie, but it's a perfect button on a show.
posted by Etrigan at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the whole, I thought the episode was only so-so (not a comment on the overall quality of SNL, just this week's), but I kind of hope that Pratt ends up becoming one of those perennial dependable SNL hosts, a la Hanks/Goodman/Martin/Baldwin. A bit of charm and natural comic timing goes a long way on a show like this.

Weekend Update: Anybody want to take bets on whether Michael Che gets the sole anchor chair next year? Colin Jost continues to be a vague, murmuring beige blur that the camera occasionally cuts to for some reason. But Che looked like he was having some fun with this, and his delivery accomplished the difficult task of selling the standard WU middle-of-the-road punchlines, so I think he's going to be a good fit going into the next couple of years of Presidential primary and election gags, when things tend to get a bit sharper. As for Cecily Strong's appearance, I'm not sure if it was meant to reassure us that her departure was amicable, or to further underscore that SNL had stupidly demoted the livelier/funnier half of the anchor team.

Just in case anybody else thought the He-Man and Lion-O sketch (Hulu) seemed extremely derivative of a certain Youtube skit (previously on the Blue): It's because one of that skit's creators (Mikey Day) is now a writer on SNL. So chill out, okay?

I think the champion of the night was the "Bad Boys" skit (also Hulu), a PERFECTLY minimalistic parody of the early-'90s ABC TGIF/Miller-Boyett Productions/Very Special Episode aesthetic. "You can't tell me who to hang out with. This is a fight!"
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anybody want to take bets on whether Michael Che gets the sole anchor chair next year?

"Head Writer = WU Anchor" is baked into the show now, and it'll take a wholesale clearing out of at least Jost and Bryan Tucker from that job (I don't know whether Rob Klein has any stand-up aspirations).
posted by Etrigan at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2014

I liked the deadpan sitcom mash-up -- I guess Bad Boys as linked by Strange Interlude -- best of all (among what I've found on blogs TBH). The He-Man sketch and Marvel sketches were pretty good too, both of them making fairly good use of Pratt.

One oddity -- don't know how many of you follow Kevin McDonough's TV column, but it's generally pretty good. Saturday's, though, derided SNL for going with Chris Pratt to bolster a thesis that the show has gone commercial and has strayed from satire:
Known best for his looks and physique, Pratt starred in one of the summer's biggest blockbusters and critical hits. Is that a reason to host a comedy showcase, and one with a tradition of satire?

I found it a very odd thing to say considering Pratt owes his fame, if to anything, to playing Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation for six years, something McDonough failed to mention at all. (Especially considering he's working with SNL alum Amy Poehler.) It's a crack cast (especially comparing side projects to its step-parent The Office), and his blockbuster superstardom this year is wholly unexpected. I really want to believe McDonough is being tongue-in-cheek here, but he appears to be wholly serious about advancing his state-of-SNL argument. If anything, Pratt seems an example of how comedy actors are launching into mainstream movies and the wider culture with a lot more breadth and depth than in eras past (e.g. Kristen Wiig with Bridesmaids and now The Skeleton Twins with Bill Hader). Sure, it's all selling popcorn in a way, but I really think he reaches to describe early SNL as somehow outside the entertainment industry or that some Rubicon has been recently crossed.

"Head Writer = WU Anchor" is baked into the show now

I dunno, it seems like a difficult mash-up of two different jobs, and probably won't suit everyone. The only thing that makes it easier than being a writer/performer is that it's a discrete part of the show.
posted by dhartung at 1:13 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

My favorite moments:
--The Marvel superhero squad composed of shopping carts
--John McCain's safeword

Huh, that's only two moments. Which I guess is about average for SNL. Waw waw.

My least favorite moments:
--Okay, I haven't watched the show since, uh, Louis CK in 2012. So my BF and I were utterly baffled by the Mooney/Bennett routine. Questions included "Is this supposed to be a parody of something? If so, what, exactly? The 90s, in general? Or the 80s?" and "Are those guys supposed to be Chris Pratt's gay dads or his roommates? Neither answer really makes much sense, though..." and "Why is everyone muttering?" and "Was that a mistake or was it supposed to be funny?" and "What is even happening on my television right now?" and "Why did we keep watching after Weekend Update?" And apparently it's a semi-beloved recurring feature? YOU KIDS TODAY
--Ariana Grande. A shiny nickel to anyone who was able to correctly identify any five words of the lyrics not included in the chorus without Googling it! Also, cat ears? Did she hop in a time machine to swipe those from a 2002 middle schooler?
posted by zeusianfog at 1:15 PM on September 28, 2014

I were utterly baffled by the Mooney/Bennett routine

I don't know if I found it funny, but I thought it was fascinating.
posted by maxsparber at 1:44 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Head Writer = WU Anchor" is baked into the show now

Considering that Tina Fey parlayed her head-writer/WU anchor role into 30 Rock and various other TV/film projects, and Seth Meyers went on to become a late night host, I'm trying to figure out what on-screen role Colin Jost is trying to springboard himself towards. Do they still show test patterns after sign-off?
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:42 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Good Neighbor digital shorts aren't always funny to me but they are interesting to me always, and this week's made me chuckle a lot. It would have been the highlight of the whole episode to me if PAM and PAM 2: The WINTER SOLDIER hadn't shown up earlier. Because I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe but I've been waiting for that joke told well for a while now.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:49 PM on September 28, 2014

That's "PAM 2: THE WINTER PAM". Which makes it -- and I have checked and rechecked the numbers -- six thousand percent funnier.
posted by Etrigan at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just found it terrible. It started it off with mess ups and unfunny jokes, and the whole thing was just amateurish for a premiere. Terrible job. The genuinely funny moments get fewer and further between, and with this current cast we're almost to the point where there is no one you can count on to deliver.

Leslie Jones needs to quit it. She's horrible. And nothing she says on twitter about 'haters' can excuse the tired, retreaded nonsense she pulls seemingly each and every time she gets lines or a skit.
posted by cashman at 6:00 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

But.. but... PAM!
posted by mochapickle at 8:29 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how much of it was sound mixing and how much of it was just the fact that Darrell Hammond is not Don Pardo, but I had problems making out the opening credits.

Hip-hop flirting was definitely the highlight of the night. I thought the Marvel movies bit was a bit meh and overlong, right up until Pam 2: Winter Pam.

The opening sketch and Cialis Turnt both required a higher level of cultural awareness than I have.

Don Pardo is emphasized because you can't not emphasize Don Pardo.
posted by ckape at 9:30 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

SNL seems to be trying to remake itself somehow, and I think they will need a few weeks to work out what works and what doesn't. My random thoughts:

• I'm surprised they changed the opening credits and logo after only one year. That said, yeah, I guess they had to do something for their fortieth season.

• I hope never to see the pet clinic sketch again. It was three identical easy jokes, and done. A waste of airtime. I would prefer the "two jerks with attitudes quitting their McJobs with a bang" sketch over that. Even though that would also be in the "run these characters into the ground" sketch, it still works better as an ensemble piece.

• More Kate McKinnon, please!! Not enough of her. Aidy Bryant is good, but overused this show.

• They should have re-tooled the "toys come to life as birthday wish" so that it wasn't a carbon copy of (at least the beginning of ) the original. My SO wasn't familiar with the original, so when I showed it to her, her jaw dropped. That said, neither of us knew that the two sketches were written by the same writer.

• They could have given Key and Peele some kind of nod during the NFL lineup sketch. (SO & I were hoping they'd make a cameo.)

• I think Michael Che has potential. The new WU backdrop is distracting. And, if they wanted more stand-up during WU, they shoulda kept Brooks Wheelan! (I know I am in the minority.) That said, I liked both Leslie Jones and Pete Davidson's sets. (I would love to see Leslie Jones promoted to the cast.) Colin Jost is about the most bland WU anchor ever, though. Someone needs to give him a couple stiff drinks before they roll him in front of the cameras. Really, they should have kept Cecily on the desk. (His only line in ght NFL sketch was much better than his delivery in all of WU.)

• Cialis Turnt was a fun rehash of the "Turn Down for What" video, but not spectacular. The Marvel parody was much funnier.

• I thought the 90's family sitcom distillation was kinda brilliant, but I can also see how most of the audience would be scratching their heads. It seemed to be much more like something you'd see on Adult Swim than SNL.

• The quickie-at-the-end game tester sketch was funny but ended too abruptly.

• Chris Pratt: utilized adequately, and it didn't feel like he was phoning it in at all. But no Parks and Rec references at all?! That would have been a great excuse to have Amy Poehler show up for a cameo and get a big cheer from the audience. And they're on the same network! Missed opportunity for both a crowd-pleaser and network synergy.

• The singer woman? I'm an old fart, ignore me.

Anyway, I came into this viewing squirming to see what they'd do this year, and by the end, it just felt like SNL was desperately looking for a new vibe, but unsure of what that new vibe was. It's way to early to tell if this will be a fun season. That's my two-cents-adjusted-for-inflation. Looking forward to next week.
posted by not_on_display at 9:55 PM on September 28, 2014

I think "amateurish" is a good word to describe SNL in general - it always has that "we barely know what we're doing or saying or why" vibe for some reason. You would think after 40 years of doing the exact same thing a show would have its shit together.
posted by bleep at 10:59 PM on September 28, 2014

They should have kept Strong on the desk but I was SO DELIGHTED that Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party was back because that character cracks me up every time. I was actually bummed when she got the anchor gig because we wouldn't get to see it any more.

(I would also like more of the Swarovsky sales models, that tickles my same funny bone, and deliberately misdelivering lines like that is HARD!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:37 PM on September 28, 2014

C'mon, no love for Marvel's Fancy Ghosts? I lost it when the lead fancy ghost took off his hat in a gentlemanly way.
posted by Servo5678 at 6:23 AM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I predict big things for Pete Davidson. I expect he'll be a full-fledged cast member by next year and doing shitty Adam Sandler type movies a few years from now. I really enjoyed him on the show and look forward to what more he has to offer.

I'll give the WU guys a couple more shows to get into the groove, but I'm with those who think Guy Smiley Colin Jost is just... dreadful. Cecily was much better.

I loved whatever the hell that 80s/90s Very Special Episode thing was. Kyle Mooney is the new Andy Samburg in that whatever the hell he does just makes me crack up. This is a fight.

I love the hell out of Aidy Bryant but I'd have traded half her roles for some Kate McKinnon. Maybe Aidy is just better at writing herself into skits, which is pretty much key for being a cast member there.

At this point in my life I'm happy if I've even heard of the musical guest. I had no idea who that person was. I usually just fast forward through it anyway.

I'm hopeful for this season. They've got a couple good hosts lined up (Hader!) and I think the cast is a bit more solid than last year.
posted by bondcliff at 8:23 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love Chris Pratt so much that I had extremely high hopes, especially given this was a premiere and they had all summer to work up ideas for the new season, and it just fell flat. Pratt felt underutilized, he's such a good comic actor and none of the sketches really used him all that well. It felt like a mid-season snoozefest of a show, which is a huge disappointing way to start your 40th season.

I always go off Sunday morning Twitter on whether SNL was good the night before (I usually watch it on TiVo on Sunday nights), and if I see loads of tweets I know it'll be a good show, and my tweet stream was dead silent on SNL so I feared it'd suck and it kind of did.
posted by mathowie at 9:44 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fancy ghosts definitely was the best part!
posted by meese at 3:46 PM on September 29, 2014

You would think after 40 years of doing the exact same thing a show would have its shit together.

I'm pretty sure the whole point of the show is for them to let their shit hang out - it's a late night comedy sketch show for unknowns to try things...

To me the weird sitcom bit was it. THere were a few other amusing parts (the Marvel one, Girl at Party, singer with cat ears oh that wasn't a joke?, toys come to life...) but the sitcom thing was, like, actually really funny, not just, watch this while I do something on my laptop funny.
posted by mdn at 3:48 PM on September 29, 2014

Except the only things they "try" are the same things they've always done.
posted by bleep at 3:54 PM on September 29, 2014

Yeah, as a season premiere it was lacking. Comparing it to last year's, I think there's something to be said for starting the season out with an alum or veteran host.
posted by ckape at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2014

I was impressed by Aidy in general, and the guy matter-of-factly explaining his giving blow jobs for money as being a businessman. BWAHAHAH. I was enjoying the hell out of Aidy and Chris Pratt, even during that scene. Which didn't make much sense but they rocked it. Also, awesome Marvel parody. And the football players were great, even though they seemed to run out of jokes after awhile on that one.

What didn't work: that puzzle game....thing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:08 PM on September 30, 2014

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