Saturday Night Live‘s 39th season started off with a stumble much bigger than the one Tina Fey experienced as she took the stage for her opening monologue. Indeed, a cold open with Jay Pharoah as President Obama — an impression that’s fairly accurate but just not funny — managed to squander appearances by five additional reperatory members, one of six brand-new featured players and Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul (!)– without scoring one serious laugh.
Thankfully, though, once Fey took the stage, the episode recovered as quickly as she did from her on-stage trip. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that one of the sketches Fey headlined was funnier than anything SNL staged during the entirety of Season 38.
With that bold statement in the books, let me get to the business of naming the night’s best and worst sketches. (Naming “Best” was harder, since it meant leaving out the excellent Airport Check-In Romance and E-Meth, which would’ve made the cut almost any other week.)
BEST: GIRLS PROMO
Just what Lena Dunham’s HBO series about navel-gazing Brooklyn gals needed: Fey’s “Blerta,” the Albanian roommate with OCD (Old Cow Disease, the reason behind her rubber hand). She slaps Shoshanna sideways, tells Hannah she’ll never get a better man than Adam since she’s “weak and soft and dressed like baby” and spits harsh truths at Jessa like, “you are unpaid prostitute — you are lower than dog!” Throw in the anecdote about her ex-boyfriend’s skull peeking out of his shallow grave on windy days — plus the perfect response to discovering Hannah is 24 (“what the f*** is wrong with you?”) — and you’ve got an instant SNL classic. (Props, too, to newbie Noelle Wells for a very funny Dunham impression, and Vanessa Bayer, spot-on as Zosia Mamet — right down to the hair donut.)
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BEST: MANOLO BLAHNIKS
Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong’s former porn stars “Breckie” and “you can too” are back, this time extolling the virtues of “Manual Blondicks” in an attempt to score free product. You’d think this recurring sketch might be starting to get threadbare, but then Strong drops a brutally funny bon mot like, “I thought I got banged into a solar eclipse — but I was really just locked in a trunk looking through a keyhole” and suddnely you’re laughing so hard you can’t breathe. And thanks to Bayer, I’ll never look at Kia’s rapping hamsters the same way again.
BEST (HONORABLE MENTION): RICK’S MODEL T’S
Not as funny as the night’s top two sketches, if I’m being honest, but at least this spoof of an early car ad by an energetic owner-spokesman (newbie Mike O’Brien) and his mentally unhinged wife (Fey) attempted to mine something a little different from the SNL norm. And it speaks volumes about Fey’s comic prowess that she has you giggling at punch lines like “I gave all my babies to the well” and “I think I killed that Navajo girl” before you have time to think about how totally, appallingly wrong they actually are.
WORST: COLD OPEN
As described above, this bit about President Obama calling on “real folks” to help him sell the Affordable Care Act was so bloated with clichés, so void of any truly fresh jabs or observations, that it seemed a very odd way to kick off the season. Heck, when Jess Pinkman can’t save a scene, you know it’s time to call “time of death.”
WORST: BRUCE CHANDLING/WEEKEND UPDATE
There might’ve been a kernel of a good idea in newcomer Kyle Mooney’s bit about a mediocre comedian whose egde expired about 10 years before the dawn of Seinfeld, but it played like two minutes of shtick from a guy who’s never gonna be truly funny, but maybe isn’t smart enough to realize it. And, alas, that’s the kind of thing that invokes sadness more than laughter.
What did you think of Fey’s hosting gig? Were you stoked by the fact that Aaron Paul appeared three separate times? What were your picks for best and worst moments? Sound off in the comments!