With a smorgasbord of greatest hits past and perhaps present, Saturday Night Live went successfully mega-meta tonight in the sometime bubbling over cold open of its Season 48 debut.
“I got to point out, where’s the balance politically?” asked host Miles Teller in his best Payton Manning impersonation. “They’re making Trump Columbus jokes, meanwhile Joe Biden’s lost his damn marbles,” the Top Gun: Maverick actor added to the Andrew Dismukes portrayed Eli Manning on the split screen as James Austin Johnson reprised his POTUS 45 role from last year “They’re not even going to mention that.”
Using the NFL siblings and Payton’s ESPN perch as the podium, the cold open leaned into the easy but effective Trump, a lament of the exit of Kate McKinnon and embraced cast old and new with tropes galore. “The show’s in a rebuilding year for sure,” quipped Teller’s Payton Manning, effectively saying the quiet thing out loud as one new cast member after another showed up for a nanosecond.
The very cable news and sports stats graphic of “14 Attempted Jokes, 1 Mild Laugh, 3 Chuckles” might have been the best therapy and gag SNL has pulled off in a cold open since …well the last time Kate McKinnon showed up.
“Thank God they got Kendrick Lamar, because that’s the only reason anyone is tuning in,” Teller tossed out to a huge studio audience laugh in NBC’s Rockefeller Plaza.
With its own up and downs, tonight’s cold open did take the opportunity to break the habit over past several seasons to use the cold open for a general approach in order to spotlight individual talents – and not just because three-time SNL host Jon Hamm showed up halfway through.
“I don’t know, but it’s not comedy,” the Mad Men and 30 Rock vet responded when asked for his hot take on the cold open. “They haven’t even used Kenan yet. That’s like putting a whole team of Elis on the field and you’ve got Payton sitting on the sidelines.”
Oh yeah and Olympian Shaun White showed up in self-described “gratuitous stunt casting” as the court appointed special master overseeing part of the fallout from the FBI raid of Trump’s Florida palace earlier this summer. “Sometimes they need to bring in a real celebrity when the host isn’t that famous,” Hamm burned Maverick co-star Teller.
Yep, meta on meta, with more meta.
And it really worked.
Now, certainly, over the past few months SNL had a lot of news to pluck from with the primetime January 6th committee hearings, the very heated travails of the new Cold War of the increasingly isolated Russia’s invasion of NATO-backed Ukraine and the pivotal upcoming U.S. midterm elections. In the last week alone, the first few days of King Charles III’s reign, the revelations of Elon Musk’s texts to deep pocketed and dim witted bros, the plunging stock market and rising gas prices, and Joe Biden’s callout to a deceased Congresswoman all had potential for a hot cold open. Of course, with the horrors of Hurricane Ian the past five days, there is always Trump, and the ceaseless dumpster fire the former SNL host presents amidst GOP rivalries, DOJ and FBI Mar-a-Lago raids and probes and more insider book full of queasy revelations and anecdotes.
So Lorne, give a raise to who ever had the notion to throw it all into the blender for the start of Season 48
Fronted tonight by first time host Teller, with Emmy, Grammy, and Pulitzer Prize winner Lamar as musical guest, the latest SNL season comes with a lot of changes from last year. Long time cast members and cold open regulars McKinnon and Pete Davidson have left the show. Also heading through the out door at Studio 8H are Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, Aristotle Athari, Alex Moffat, Chris Redd and Melissa Villaseñor. With Kenan Thompson, Bowen Yang, and Cecily Strong among the cast still on board, Marcello Hernandez, Molly Kearney, Michael Longfellow, and Devon Walker were officially unveiled as SNL featured players last month.
Over the decades, SNL has seen a revolving door of once-in-a-generation talent like Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, and Tina Fey break-out, dominate and then leave the show. Exits that have often forced the show to spend a year or two regrouping, discovering a new groove and a new focal point. In that context, as tonight’s cold open made very apparent, the loss of MVP McKinnon will surely be a struggle to overcome this season, if not into next year too.
But tonight, to lean into the NFL motif from the network home of SNL and SNF, touchdown!