The much-anticipated 37th season premiere of Saturday Night Live took place this weekend, with host Alec Baldwin making a record 16th appearance and worshipped mutation-rockers Radiohead hopping across the Atlantic to play a new song in an episode that gave us hope for the season, despite the show's longrunning issues with quality consistency.
For once, the political opening monologue was a searing success, despite its ungodly length (over ten minutes!). Baldwin, who looks pretty damn comfortable on a political podium, his Gov. Rick Perry impression consistently stumbling and doubletalking himself into buffoonery, while Jason Sudeikis' Mitt Romney is a tremendous blank-behind-the-eyes affability. Taran Killam’s John Huntsman walked an odd racial line (but did it well), while Ron Paul's refusal to help burning puppies and Kristen Wiig's loopy Michelle Bachmann were bit-part successes.
Bragging that he's surpassed Steve Martin as the No. 1 most frequent SNL host in history, Baldwin settled into his latest stint by stabbing at Martin for moonlighting with “the round guitar thing Kermit the Frog plays.” Natch, the Father Of The Bride then showed up ("Oh, I was just passing by the studio in full makeup”) – along with drug expert Seth Rogen – to test Baldwin’s urine for performance-enhancing drugs. A few sips from the sample determined that only niacin, B-12, linguine vongole, and Cialis were present.
Baldwin also addressed the ridiculous protests of the new Ben & Jerry's flavor, Schweddy Balls, named after his own '90s SNL sketch involving homemade treats at a public radio bake fair. Alec promised an upcoming new flavor being released for the critics: "Go Fudge Yourself."
The first pre-produced bit of the year is thankfully not a repeated commercial sketch, but a new one: "Red Flag" perfume. “She’s funny, but not funny like ‘ha ha’ … Funny like ‘yikes!’” Red Flag: smells like trouble. What a tagline. And oh, what I'd have given in the past decade to actually have had a product like this. Women are lucky – they've had their senses tuned to the Red Flag scent for years on men; it's called Axe body spray.
Despite the promising start, there were – with depressing reliability – a series of unfunny skits that hampered our ramped enthusiasm for the new season. After all, since they've had all Summer to hit a grand slam with the opener, there should be an utterly airtight comedy assault. This is not what we're witness to, as the writers fall into traps of their own devising. For instance, the All My Children Wrap Party must've worked well on paper, but in execution the skit was a mess of unfunniness and ran far too long. If evil-twin and amnesia jokes are the best SNL can come up with at this point, the season is not looking good. But we'll forgive them one missed hurdle. Or three.
The timing of Weekend Update was all over the place as well. And really, Seth, it's time to open the co-anchor chair back up. Nobody can fill Tina Fey's seat like Liz Lemon herself, but there's got to be some new blood to bring to the formula. Baldwin's impression of Tony Bennett was a fine distraction however, and the supermarket cashiers joke at the end was a solid finish.
Radiohead's performance was a mutated, raw and gorgeous rendition of "Lotus Flower" that pushed frontman Thom Yorke's falsetto limits while exploring new improvisational avenues towards the end. The band's second song, once again featuring two drummers, was a fantastic new track called "Staircase". Check out both of the band's performances here.
"Who's On Top" is an awkward and weird bit of lawsuit bait pitting Hollywood leading men against one another in the bedroom in the form of a game show, while Alec's Al Pacino is scary good in the "Top Gun Screentest" skit. Watch below:
Then that brings us to what's possibly the best sketch of the night, for both how dark of a place they take it to and how much it reminds us of Amy Poehler's "Kaitlyn" character from not so long ago – without outright stealing material. Nasim Pedrad plays Baldwin's pre-teen daughter, an insufferable monster whose father refuses to give the satisfaction of acknowledgement when she throws attention tantrums. Between planking on top of china cabinets, pouring pudding on the new girlfriend's head ("are you my mother now?" is the sexiest thing a woman's ever heard, I'm sure) and setting Daddy's blue blazer on fire, she pushes the limits on obnoxious – but damned if every parent watching wasn't howling with laughter.
Ultimately, the season premiere was a little smarter than this lifetime fan had been expecting, with minor cast and production changes taking place rather than total cast overhauls and writing reformatting. With a little luck, a run of great guests and a continued guarantee that the current political climate will remain as outrageously cartoonish and ridiculous as it is today, "Saturday Night Live" could have another great pre-election season to offer.