Following the departure of eight cast members—including big names like Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson—over the summer, Lorne Michaels declared Season 48 of Saturday Night Live a “year of reinvention” for the show. And while it’s hard to tell yet what that might mean in practice, the lack of star power could certainly be felt in the first cold open sketch of the fall.
They even called in host Miles Teller to play Peyton Manning, who along with Andrew Dismukes’ Eli Manning, delivered play-by-play meta commentary on the show’s inevitable struggles. But the attempt to wink at the situation only highlighted how big of a hole they are in. “There are a lot of changes at the show, which could be exciting,” Teller’s Manning said. “Let’s see what they spent the entire summer coming up with.”
As James Austin Johnson’s Donald Trump launched into a typical and expected Mar-a-Lago-during-a-hurricane bit, the Mannings continually chimed in to remark on how terrible the whole thing was. They teased the new recruits for messing up, roasted a “surprise fumble” from Bowen Yang who was “supposed to take a step up this year,” and drew attention to McKinnon’s absence by wondering why no one was impersonating Anthony Fauci or Lindsey Graham or Rudy Giuliani.
“The show is in a rebuilding year for sure,” Teller said, adding, “Thank god they’ve got Kendrick Lamar [as musical guest] because that’s the only reason anyone is tuning in.”
Later, they decided to bring in an even bigger celebrity, “three-time host of SNL during what now seems like a golden era,” Teller’s Top Gun: Maverick co-star Jon Hamm.
Asked what he made of the sketch so far, Hamm said, “I don’t know, but it’s not comedy. They haven’t even used Kenan [Thompson] yet. That’s like putting a whole team of Elis on the field when you’ve got Peyton sitting on the sidelines.”
Finally, after throwing in one more “gratuitous” cameo with Olympian Shaun White as Trump’s “special master,” Teller bragged that it’s always “special” when they put the host in cold opens.
“Special or desperate?” Hamm replied.
Ultimately, the attempt at knowing self-deprecation just came off as deeply unfunny navel-gazing that did nothing to assuage viewers concerned about how SNL might be able to reinvent itself this year. The only way the opening could be considered a success was if the goal was to lower expectations as much as possible.
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