Cold Open — Not the strongest way to kick off the season, with a sketch about confusion and cynicism over Obama’s affordable healthcare act, which is both unfunny and not particularly helpful to the national conversation (sorry, bias. Bygones). It’s clearly designed to shoehorn something topical at the top of the show and feature Aaron Paul, who turns a Daily Beast post into a sketch joke: That the lack of Obamacare is why Walter White had to resort to selling meth. The sketch’s only real selling point is Paul’s cameo. 4/10
Opening Monologue — Tina Fey brings out the six new featured players — Beck Bennet, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noel Wells, and Brooks Wheelan — and force them to go through an SNL rite of passage by humiliating themselves as back-up dancers to the host. 5/10
Girls Parody — The first good sketch of the season is a pre-taped Girls parody featuring a new “girl,” Tina Fey’s Blerta, a poor woman from Albania, who did a fantastic job of sending up Girls first-world problems. “My ex-girlfriend is an Internet millionaire,” Marnie complains. “My ex-boyfriend is buried in a shallow grave. On windy days, dirt blows away and you can see his skull,” Blerta responds. (8/10)
Boarding Process — One joke — about all the special classes of people who are boarded before regular coach passengers are — completely run into the ground. It’s a good 20-second joke. Unfortunately, the sketch is four minutes. This is the Saturday Night Live we know and love! It was not a good sketch, but I appreciate the nostalgia. (3.5/10)
Arcade Fire or New Featured Player? — A meta game show, in which contestant Tina Fey has to tell the difference between a member of Arcade Fire and one of SNL’s six new featured players. It’s more amusing than it has any right to be, mostly because of Kenan’s shame yelling and an appearance from Lorne Michaels. (6/10)
E-Meth Commercial — “Thanks to E-Meth, now I don’t even need to leave the bar to get my sweet shabu shabu. Mama can smoke that chunky white crunch anywhere.” Great meth lingo, plus a stronger cameo appearance from Aaron Paul. (8/10)
Weekend Update — We get our first look at Cecily Strong as co-host of “Weekend Update.” She has a rough handle on her joke delivery, but she’ll get there. It doesn’t help that Meyers is so good that the contrast works to her detriment. It’s a tough assignment. Drunk Uncle shows up, along with yet another Aaron Paul cameo as Meth Nephew. 7/10
Cinema Classics — Stuffed animal gags? Well, taxidermists should love this sketch. Everyone else? Not so much. (2/10)
Rick’s Model Ts — The world’s very first used car commercial is more clever than it is funny. (6/10)
Manolo Blondicks — You might think it’s too soon to bring back this recurring sketch, and you may think that it can’t still be funny the fourth time they trot it out, but you’d be wrong. Tina Fey is the only weakness here, although she did deliver the night’s best line: “I saw you on House Hunters. You picked the wrong house, bitch!” The last sketch gets the best score of the night. These two are officially the best reason to stay up past “Weekend Update” now. (8.5/10)
Overall Score: 5.8 — It was not a great 39th season premiere, but it really had no business being as good as it was, really. With six new featured players, and several second year cast members who have only been elevated to regulars this year, it’s going to take a while for the chemistry of this cast to come together. Tina Fey felt more like a mentor than a host in this episode, and with all the losses SNL has suffered, the show actually felt like it belonged to Kenan Thompson and Bobby Moynihan, who are now the oldest serving cast members on the show (not counting Seth Meyers). The confidence of those two has never been more apparent than when they’re being contrasted with the new cast, who look nervous, overeager, and unsure of themselves, which is exactly how they should look right now.
It’s going to be a rough and uneven fall, but I think this cast will pull together around the time Seth Meyers’ departs during the Winter Olympics. In the meantime, Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong are going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and I think both are well equipped to carry the show.