“Saturday Night Live” had its long-awaited season premiere on Sept. 29, after a summer chock-full of political mishaps and stories that many, including myself, would have liked to see satirized weekly on the show.
After the start of the Trump presidency in 2016, the show quickly rose in popularity, with Season 42 becoming the “most-watched season in 23 years,” according to Deadline. Viewership dipped slightly for Season 43, but with comedic material still quickly flowing in, “Saturday Night Live” was able to produce some great episodes. So, when producers finally announced the premiere date for Season 44, there was a quite a bit of excitement. The first episode of this season was hosted by Adam Driver, with Kanye West as a musical guest. The show had a couple of outstanding moments and sketches, but at other points left a general feeling of disappointment.
The cold open
Unsurprisingly, the cold open focused on the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. Matt Damon played Kavanaugh as a loud, obnoxious frat boy, imitating the moments during the actual hearing where Kavanaugh became emotional and angry, talking excessively about his love of beer and tearing up about lifting weights with his friends.
Damon was able to succinctly emulate Kavanaugh’s personality as seen in the hearing, and the crowd seemed to love it. Various “SNL” cast members acting as senators questioned Damon, including a surprise appearance from Rachel Dratch, an “SNL” alum. Kate McKinnon, playing Senator Lindsey Graham, and Alex Moffat, playing Senator Chuck Grassley, really shined.
Additionally, “SNL” satirized the female prosecutor hired by Republicans, with “SNL” senators barely allowing Aimy Bryant, playing the prosecutor, to get more than a few words in. This political sketch was the perfect way to open Season 44, and showed that the “Saturday Night Live” writers and cast are still masters of political satire. Despite the fact that the cold open was much longer than previous cold opens, coming in at around 13 minutes, the time was well spent.
In the past, Weekend Update has been one of the consistent highlights of the show, so the expectations were high for this segment, especially with the amount of political material that Colin Jost and Michael Che could whip up.
They started with Kavanaugh, as expected. Jost made a few jokes about Kavanaugh’s emotional hearing, and how the Supreme Court nominee yelled and cried about beer, his high school friends and weight-lifting. Jost also commented on the Republican’s use of a female prosecutor to ask questions, saying “If you’re not the right person to ask questions at a Senate hearing, maybe you’re the not the right person to be a senator.”
Che came in next to point out that Kavanaugh essentially failed his “job interview,” and that if Kavanaugh even might have a sexual assault problem or a drinking problem, then he should not be on the Supreme Court, or “even the People’s Court.” He further commented that the Republicans should just choose another nominee, saying, “Are Republicans so pro-life that you don’t even have a Plan B for this?” Overall, Weekend Update lived up to the expectations, and the opening segment was a good premiere for Jost and Che.
The first interview of the night was with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, played by Kate McKinnon. McKinnon as Ginsburg spoke about Kavanaugh and made the usual jokes about how she would try to stay alive for as long as possible, showing a calendar of her current events that simply read, “Don’t die!” One of the most well-received jokes came when McKinnon pointed out that Republicans called for an FBI investigation even though they were going to confirm Kavanaugh, and then said, “Hey, Jeff Flake — you can borrow a pair of my panties, since you’re so concerned about covering your own ass.” As always,McKinnon was wonderful as Ginsburg, and the interview was just as top-notch as the first segment of Weekend Update.
Then the Weekend Update hosts turned to their less political stories of the night, this was decidedly less funny. This segment focused in part on Bill Cosby, with Che barely able to get through his statement that Cosby was sentenced to time in prison without laughing. Che pondered the reason behind the name “The Cosby Show” for two clips before finally moving on to the Dunkin’ Donuts name change.
This part of Weekend Update is always a bit random, as it’s composed of stories of varying degrees of hilarity, but the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves. While the segment was certainly not a show-stopper, it was on par with similar Weekend Update segments from other episodes in previous seasons of “Saturday Night Live.”
Weekend Update continued with an “unplanned” appearance from Leslie Jones as Serena Williams, focusing on the scene from Williams’ somewhat recent match where she called the umpire a liar and a thief. The crowd ate up Jones’ performance, despite the fact that the segment seemed somewhat scrambled and out of place. While Jones is, of course, a great comedian, there were better ways for “SNL” to feature her.
Finally, it was time for one of the most anticipated moments of the night: an interview with Pete Davidson about his engagement to Ariana Grande. There has been lots of controversy recently surrounding the celebrity couple, especially after Davidson’s recent interview with Howard Stern, where he said that “he’s ‘never been prouder’ than when former President Bill Clinton appeared to be ogling Grande” at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, as Billboard reported.
Davidson even went on to say in that interview that he felt bad for the pastor who appeared to touch Grande inappropriately at the same funeral. The “SNL” interview seemed to go fairly well for the majority of the time, filled with Davidson’s typical self-deprecating humor that people have come to love. However, a little over half way through the segment, Davidson made a joke about switching Grande’s birth control pills with tic-tacs in order to make sure “that she can’t go anywhere.” The joke did not play well with the crowd, and Jost quickly steered the topic away.
There were a few too many quips about the potential fragility of the couple’s relationship, which seemed to make the crowd a bit uncomfortable. While Davidson’s comedic material was funny for the most part, this interview did not seem to be the best representation for him. Given the reports mentioned earlier that discussed the possible tension in Davidson and Grande’s relationship, “SNL” may have been wise to cut that segment of Weekend Update before it aired. The show seemed to profit unfairly off of Davidson’s engagement to Grande, especially when Grande had already decided to not be the first musical guest of the season, due to “emotional reasons,” as reported by USA Today.
“Career Day” featured Davidson as a student and Driver as his eccentric, oil baron father. This was the best non-political sketch of the night, as evidenced by the reactions from the crowd and even the on-stage actors. Davidson had a hard time keeping himself together, cracking up during the middle of his lines when Driver spoke directly to him. Melissa Villasenor was also given a key role in the skit.
Driver’s performance as the oil baron was the best audiences saw him all night, and some, like Slate, have even claimed that he should win an Oscar for it. Davidson was practically crying with laughter by the end of the skit, and the crowd appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves.
For the most part, the best moments of the show dealt with political satire. That seems to be what “Saturday Night Live” is best at, which is why the show became so popular after Trump’s presidency began. While some of the sketches, like “Career Day,” can be exceptional, the show’s best material comes from places like the cold open and Weekend Update.
Driver’s monologue was absent of all politics and fell a bit short of expectations. He played on his dislike of small talk, with various SNL cast members talking to him about their summers. The one part of the monologue that got a pretty good reaction from the audience was when Davidson came out to talk with Driver.
Since Davidson’s engagement, “Saturday Night Live,” Grande and Davidson fans alike have been waiting to hear a first-hand account of his summer. Of course, Davidson was the only cast member who did not go on at length about his time off. As Driver quipped to Davidson, “You’re the one person whose summer I really want to hear about.”
“Coffee Shop” starred Driver and Cecily Strong. In the sketch, Driver and Strong played snobby newlyweds at a coffee shop who were shocked when they found out their “fancy” coffee was just Burger King coffee.
This was one of the flops of the night; SNL has done skits just like this before, and the writers and cast could have come up with something more original, especially for the season premiere. The talent of the cast was somewhat wasted in this short sketch.
The musical performances
After West’s tweet storm about Trump, which “SNL” even made a skit about in Season 43, called “A Kanye Place,” it was surprising that the show chose to invite him — of course, he was only invited after Grande dropped out.
Normally, musical artists on “SNL” perform two songs that have already been released, but West performed three songs, one of which was brand new. West was scheduled to drop a new album on the 29th, but instead performed it on “Saturday Night Live” and released one song on air, leaving some fans disappointed.
To start, West performed “I Love It,” featuring Lil Pump and Adele Givens.
Lil Pump and West came out dressed as a water bottle and a bottle of Perrier, respectively, while Givens was projected onto a screen behind them. West could have chosen something that was better suited to being performed on “SNL,” as the song was filled to the brink with words that could not be broadcasted, meaning that the song was cut out after almost every other word.
Next, West performed “We Got Love,” his brand-new song, with Teyana Taylor.
The beginning was dominated by Taylor, and then West took over. The performance was decent, but definitely nothing to write home about, especially when compared to other classic acts on “SNL,” and it felt like Taylor outperformed West. Both simply stood on stage at the end as a voice-over played. The overall performance could have been produced with high quality and with much more energy.
West’s final performance of the night was “Ghost Town,” from “Ye.” Kid Cudi, 070 Shake, and Ty Dolla Sign jumped in on this song. West changed his wardrobe again, choosing to wear a MAGA hat. West had significantly more energy here, and his overall performance was better than that of his previous two songs.
But, the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” didn’t end peacefully — as cast members came on stage at the end of West’s song to sign off, West began to deliver a political rant with an uncomfortable “SNL” cast behind him. One of his most memorable remarks came when he defended his choice to follow Trump, despite claims that he was racist. “If I was concerned about racism,” West said, “I would have moved out of America.” There was scattered applause throughout the rant, along with a couple boos, and the cast members behind “SNL” began to look bored and even amused, as was the case for Jost.
West also began to talk about how he was “bullied backstage” and told “not to go out there with that hat on.” The cast members behind West were left looking uncomfortable again, although Jost still seemed to be holding in laughter. As West finished his rant and thanked the “SNL” cast for giving him a “platform,” he continued his musical performance and the “SNL” cast begin to leave the stage. Much of this rant was cut out from the actual TV broadcast for time.
The episode was on par with some of the other episodes from previous seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” but as a whole it didn’t blow anyone away. Driver was good in some is sketches, but it seemed as though he wasn’t given much to work with.
Rather than leaving behind a fairly good impression of his performances, West left people with a political, angry vibe, and opened the door for comparisons to previous “Saturday Night Live” guests, most of whom stayed non-partisan.
However, despite the fact that the show seems to be on the decline, many fans have faith that the cast, writers and producers of “SNL” will be able to make the show great again.