Long-running sketch comedy institution “Saturday Night Live” held its 46th season premiere last weekend.
That’s about it. To comment any more on the show would require remembering the actual details of it, but the sketches were so tepid and awkward that to describe the episode would be like trying to describe one’s life as a newborn. The season premiere, hosted by SNL alum and stand-up comedian Chris Rock, has met a fate worse than being markedly bad. Having eclipsed any notion of lasting feeling, the show opts to drown in a 1-inch puddle of transient disappointment.
A single word comes to mind when recounting what felt wrong about the premiere: bloat. It’s understandable. The show has to work under COVID-19 protocols while shaking off the rust of a four-month hiatus. Late cues and mismatched cutting can be refined as the season progresses — but when what feels like a six-minute sketch runs 13 minutes long, the cute, homemade feeling of SNL descends into the sloppy and tedious.
The show’s cold open lampooned last Tuesday’s presidential debate, having Alec Baldwin’s amateurish impersonation of a puckering Donald Trump going toe-to-toe with Joe Biden, performed by this season’s special guest — and human elastic band — Jim Carrey. Baldwin’s Trump impersonation lost any hope of improvement about three years ago, but Carrey’s Biden had yet to be seen, and, for lack of a better word, it was OK. Carrey found moments of slipping into a perfect Biden impression, but there were equal amounts of time when Carrey would return to the zany, off-the-wall characters he is known to play. It’s up to the writers this season to decide if they want a Jim Carrey character who happens to be Joe Biden or an actual impression of Biden, because the middle ground was confusing and directionless.
SNL icon Maya Rudolph is also a special guest this season, appearing as Kamala Harris. Rudolph is already known to do a dynamite impression of Harris, but her placement in the cold open felt shapeless and unnecessary, adding time to a sketch that was already struggling to stay afloat. Rock’s following monologue should have been an easy way to score points due to his undeniable and prescient stand-up talent, but this was yet again another meandering divulgence with no real payoff until the very end.
The first sketch of the night, “Superspreader Event”, is probably the best example of what SNL got right and wrong. The premise has been done before: Multiple people want to change their name either to or from something lurid and crass. It’s funny when characters are able to spout off their irreverent name, but when Pete Davidson is in the background just giggling and playing none other than Pete Davidson, and along, the sketch becomes so distracting to the point where the original premise is broken. The not-so-subtle goofiness morphs into a repeated jab in the ribs, as if the show is saying, “You get it? You get it yet?”
Rock was underutilized in the premier, chosen to play the glossy roles of a health care worker who lectures, a ghost who lectures, and — for the worst sketch of the night — a draft announcer who, you guessed it, announces draft picks. Without any memorable characters to work with, his impact was hardly felt outside of the monologue.
The few saving graces of the show were found in the Weekend Update segment with Michael Che and Colin Jost. The dynamic between Jost and Che is so solidified by now that an earthquake couldn’t shake it, bolstered by an appearance by Bowen Yang as his bread-and-butter character, Chen Biao, to offer some stability to the rocky premiere.
Another highlight was Chloe Fineman’s deliriously good impression of Drew Barrymore’s new daytime talk show. Fineman proved herself to be an irreplaceable asset after her at-home quarantine appearances, but her endless cavalcade of impressions should ensure her spot on the cast for years to come.
There is potential for a return to form for future episodes, but if the quality of the premier is a sign of things to come, then buckle up, folks — because we are in for a long season.
Contact Jake Lilian at [email protected].