With the bloated carcass of Season 39 in the rear view mirror, Saturday Night Live kicked off its 40th season with host Chris Pratt and musical guest Ariana Grande last night. Last season was a transitionary year, mired in cast turnover angst, charges of racism, some incredibly weak hosts (Bruce Willis, Miley Cyrus, Jim Parsons), and worst of all, a lot of boring comedy, leavened with a handful of brilliantly weird sketches. Thankfully, they started out the year on a solid foot, thanks in large part to some fantastic new cast additions, and Pratt's natural charm.
The new cast members made much, much more of a first impression than all those new faces last season. Daily Show alum Michael Che made his debut as the new co-host of Weekend Update, and immediately leapfrogged over both co-host Colin Jost (and even departed co-host Cecily Strong) in the charisma department, despite a few initial verbal stumbles. This jumbo-sized Weekend Update—which included four segments plus the regular headline jokes—felt markedly different from last year's version, which was still living in Seth Meyer's shadow.
The other new guy, Pete Davidson, was hilarious in his Weekend Update debut, with a cocky but sincere energy. Really, everything was good on Update: writer Leslie Jones returned as a relationship expert, invoking the "ghost whisperer." Best of all, Strong brought back That Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party, which is a better fit for her than her stint behind the desk. And Jost, well...Jost didn't come across as smarmy as he did last season, but he still hasn't found his own groove on Update yet. Having Che (and Kenan Thompson) next to him to sing sweet songs to Obama certainly helps though.
As for Pratt: he was quite nervous during his guitar-enhanced monologue, but his sincerity (and affection for wife Anna Faris) won the day. Besides the early stumble, he was excellent across the board, especially in the three sketches of the night: a spoof of Marvel movie success in the Marvel Can't Fail short; courting the absolutely amazing Aidy Bryant in a courtship-by-way-of-booty-raps sketch; and as the third wheel in the Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett sketch Roommates. I know the Mooney/Bennett sketches aren't everyone's cup of tea, but this was possibly the best thing the two have done since joining SNL—it was like aliens binge-watched a decade of TGIF sitcoms, and regurgitated a very strange, very enjoyable recreation.
Not everything was running perfectly, of course: the only returning sketch was the dire, dead on arrival Animal Hospital; the second NFL sketch, while funnier than the Cold Open, was completely derivative of the much funnier Key & Peele East/West Bowl sketches; and the last sketch of the night, Video Game Testers, didn't quite go far enough with its premise.
Click through for all those sketches, plus a commercial for Cialis Turnt, horny action figures come to life, and music from Ariana Grande. Sarah Silverman will be the host next week, with musical guest Maroon 5.