It's been a long time since I caught up with Saturday Night Live. I was a big fan of the show in junior high and high school, staying up late on Saturday nights in the living room, no shirt and big glass of pepsi (you know what's up!). Sometimes I would even record the musical guest on VHS. The show holds many fond memories for me, as I'm sure it does for many other people, whenever they were into it.
Having heard of the departure of Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig, I decided that it was a good time to reintroduce myself to the show with the new crop of comedians. The premiere of the 38th season of SNL, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, jumped into the show with a solid run of sketches leading up to the musical guest Frank Ocean, a good sign. Jay Pharoh pulled together a solid Barack Obama impression that managed to make me laugh out loud while watching the show alone. This is my high-water mark for comedy; if it gets a response from me all alone with no one else in the room, then I deem it funny. Obama is not an easy man to imitate or make fun of, but SNL did a great job of playing into his popularity as a joke against that of Mitt Romney's (played by a spot on Jason Sudeikis).
It felt good to watch the show and not feel like it had run it's course. From the get-go, the show played into the millennial demographic, acknowledging the loyalty that came in with Andy Samberg and Keenan Thompson, Seth MacFarlane did not shy away from indulging the familiar voices from 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad.' He knew who his fan base was and he kept us aging millennials in mind throughout the show. A later date sketch brought his Quagmire “giggity-giggity” into it, to which his date replied “Don't do Family Guy, we're both 30.”
The show has historically played into their key demographics in this way and it has kept fans loyal to a respected set of characters. You could ask anyone 50 and above what they think of SNL these days and they are sure to say that it doesn't hold a candle to the glory days of Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase. Such is how it will be with the millennials. It seems that the for the time and cast being, Lorne Michaels is happy to cater to the millennial support he's found through Samberg's digital shorts and the superstar status of Will Farrell in the early 2000s.
The show also has put some stock in female comedians this season. The show has brought on seven males and six females, a near 50/50 split that is rare in the history of SNL and a split that will bring more diverse sketches and faces into the skits.
It is nice to have a large, diverse set of new comedians, but it is also welcome to know that the show is in the hands of someone who knows it backwards in forwards. Seth Meyers maintains his position as head writer on the show and I put faith in the direction the show is heading. The current SNL has a kind of scrappiness to it that I have come to appreciate and that scrappiness was part of what made the premiere great and the episodes of the past few seasons I managed to catch so great. The show seems to know how to be humble when a sketch is awesome and it knows how to fall with grace if a sketch is falling flat. A really poor skit featuring Seth Macfarlane as a stuttering drill sergeant; everyone involved knew it wasn't that funny, but they seemed intent on charming us to enjoy it anyway. SNL has come to terms with being able to pull off some of the best and worst humor by knowing that it is capable of doing both, because honestly, where is it going to go? Away?
The show has taken on a spirit of experimentation since the dawn of the Samberg 'Digital Shorts' that I hope it continues to push in different ways this next season.
A final touch of the premiere that SNL is good at is incorporating really famous people into the show without making a big deal of it. John Mayer played on both songs by Frank Ocean without so much as an introduction (the first song didn't even have a guitar solo and Frank Ocean played video games while he soloed in the second, no big deal). A brief appearance by the Korean pop-artist Psy in a sketch about some Lid's Hat Store employees was exciting for me being in Korea (the place where you can't escape Gangnam Style) and it also was educational, I had no idea the song was so popular in America.
By the end of the show, I felt like I was reunited with an old friend.
The cast was almost all new people, with the hilarious exceptions of Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, Keenan Thompson, Bobby Moynihan and Fred Armisen, and it kept it's focus on the millennials, because really, who else is there to impress? As long as SNL keeps experimenting with a “nothing to lose” mentality, I think it will continue to do well for years to come.
Needless to say, check out SNL Season 38.