To usher us into this milestone 40th season, we have Chris Pratt and Ariana Grande. Really, these two picks are hardly a surprise. Both of these now superstars have had a career defining years. Pratt went from the chubby, lovable guy on Parks and Recreation to a bona fide leading man that all ladies swoon over. I guess that’s what happens when you play the main character on both the highest grossing movie of the year and an immensely acclaimed animated film. As for Grande, few people have been in the news as much as she has for both good and bad. She’s really a publicity roller coaster. Yet despite the extensive rumors about her “diva” attitude or the iCloud photo hacking scandal, it’s clear that 2014 is still a win for her. She became a chart topping recording artist and has somewhat successfully moved on from Sam & Cat. So with the crazy momentum behind these two newly massive stars, surely this premiere can deliver. Right?
Marvel’s success with Guardian’s of the Galaxy was one of the biggest stories of the summer. It left people wondering, “If they can make a talking racoon and tree box office heroes, what else is Marvel capable of?” That exact question is what anchored my first favorite bit of the night. “Marvel Can’t Fail” was a hodgepodge of completely ridiculous ideas that are believed to be super hits because they have the Marvel name. These included Bus People, Fancy Ghosts, Pam, and Pam 2: The Winter Pam. The sheer absurdity of this is what made it so funny and memorable. And Ant-Man being clumped into this made it that much better. Seriously, the premise behind that movie is ridiculous, but somehow we all know Marvel will pull it off. This skit was just the perfect storm of clever writing, excellent timing, and perfect cultural relevance.
I’m glad Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney were one of the few 2013-2014 newcomers to come back, simply because we get to watch them made some really bizarre pre-recorded skits. Now if you read my reviews last year, you probably remember I wasn’t a big fan of these. I appreciated what these two new guys were trying to do in a post-Lonely Island SNL but their skits typically went into weird territory as opposed to funny. Last night however struck the perfect balance with Roommates. It really couldn’t have worked without Pratt too. As someone who became popular for playing a man child on TV, Pratt was the right pick to be a man who gets wrapped up in a bad gang of kids. It just worked so well with his strengths. Obviously Bennett and Mooney were in their element too, just really working the odd angle to make something special.
The last skit of the night is almost always something experimental and last night was definitely no exception. As the final skit, we got a pair of “kids” testing a new video game called Puzzle World 6. The game is stupidly easy, but that’s not where the jokes are. The humor came from what the two hosts (Pratt and Vanessa Bayer) did after each level: They got excessively intimate. It could be because I’m really exhausted while writing this, but this skit just absolutely slayed me. It was crazy and I loved it. The best part was how neither Pratt nor Bayer ever broke character. For me this was probably Pratt’s best performance of the night comedy wise.
Whoa, are those the vet hospital people again? Out of all the past segments to come back again, they chose this one? I’m completely lost. This skit is so one-note and oddly depressing. I mean, it’s about animals dying in a vet hospital. Sure, the comedic delivery by Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, and Pratt wasn’t terrible, but it’s tough to turn something so bleak into something funny.
I’ll give the show credit. Trying to imagine how action figures would act after suddenly becoming real has some merit. You can bet it wouldn’t be anything like Toy Story. It’d probably be more like last night’s skit where He-Man (Pratt), Lion-O (Taran Killam), and She-Ra (Ariana Grande) came to life to help a lonely boy (Mooney) have fun. This skit honestly could have been funny but jeez was Pratt’s timing off by a mile. Killam effortlessly made it work but Pratt just kept bringing everything down. This was hardly the only example of Pratt being off during the show, but it was definitely the worst. It completely butchered the bit.
The skit with Aidy Bryant and Pratt excessively rapping suffered the same fate. Bryant, always game to go a little crazy, went absolutely nuts when it was her time. Pratt on the other hand looked extremely reserved and a little uncomfortable. His body language was almost completely non-existent and it sounded like he was aggressively whispering. Either he was way too quiet or his mic level was too low. It honestly could be either because Darrell Hammond’s opening roll call was the same way. Hammond, replacing the booming voice of the late Don Pardo, opened his first episode in a polar opposite manner. Again, too quiet or levels too low? Only the staff can say. I know they don’t want him to be just like Pardo but at least make him audible.
It’s clear that last night needed more work. From the moment Pratt nervously began his monologue that involved him flubbing up some lines, little mistakes kept popping up. Pratt especially took a while before he sufficiently looked confident enough on stage to make it through a skit without breaking out too much. The Weekend Update was really where the show started to mesh together better, but it wasn’t until the very end that Pratt actually found his groove. Obviously it was a little too late to make much of a difference.
The changes made in the offseason lead to some rocky introductions as well. The Weekend Update was good example of this. Michael Che, the first black Update anchor, flubbed a good portion of his lines. He soldiered on but definitely will need some time to actually find his place. The Update also went on excessively long. Did they just have a lot to cram in? But just like the show as a whole, the Update bounced back. We got Strong again as “That Girl” (paraphrasing) and a good introduction to Pete Davidson. The kid may be young but he can hold character like the best of them. Leslie Jones coming back as a guest was much better this time around as well. So while it didn’t start off on the best foot, the Update did end with something serviceable.
Last night wasn’t terrible. It had a solid handful of great moments. But clearly more time needed to be spent on practicing the material. Let’s fix that next week with Sarah Silverman.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.