With two episodes done, here are my opinions on season 40 so far.
- New titles: I like the styling choices. The font choice works well, and I like the throwback early-seasons-styled bumper they occasionally throw in. (The bumper they used for the last few seasons was actually recycled from the Ebersol years.)
- Weekend Update finally got a new set!
- Michael Che: He's better at the Update desk than Cecily was last year.
- Leslie Jones: Time to make her a featured player.
- The overall writing: the material in the first two episodes was good. Compared to the previous 39 seasons, I'd call it above-average at least. (Don't believe me? Watch a few episodes from about 1990 to 2009. The Carvey/Farley years had their slow spots, even before season 19, and there was almost nothing good while Tina Fey was doing the writing.)
- The cast balance: Episode 1 was basically The Aidy Bryant Show. Don't get me wrong; she's very funny. In fact, she's quickly becoming a breakout star on the show. Murphy and Piscopo were also very funny, but having them do half of each show by themselves still ruined it. Episode 2 was better, but some people are still badly underused (Vanessa and Sasheer come to mind immediately).
- The main set is still there! You can't have forty-year-old show switch main sets several times for the first thirty years, and then leave one up for ten. (I think they did rearrange the steps on which the band sits; it looks like they went from straight to slightly angled. But the backdrop and musical guest stages remain unchanged.)
- Edit: Forgot one I'd meant to raise. The Don Pardo tribute. He was announcer for 38 seasons covering a span of 39 years, and all they give him is a five second title card?
- Things are very formulaic. I just saw the season 3 Steve Martin episode at 10 PM. Remember when it was the host "and his guests"? Now it's always a host with exactly one musical guest. No standup comedians; no guest performances. Rather than give us variety in performances, they try to surprise us with cameos, but the show's so formulaic that there are almost always cameos, so they aren't that much of a surprise. It's a live show! Do something different!
(And on that note, SNL should never do another monologue Q&A until the end of time. Watching a lot of SNL from season 11 onward reveals they used these monologue Q&As almost as much as they use Weekend Update. It's not a very funny idea to start with; it doesn't get any funnier if you overuse it.)
- Darrell Hammond as announcer: He doesn't have much of an announcer voice (speak from the diaphragm, Darrell!) He might grow into it, though.
- Pete Davidson: I haven't seen enough of him to really judge. I'm pessimistic- he doesn't seem to be an actor that really does characters. This makes me confused about the decision-making process at SNL. They fired three people who did do characters. The one who didn't do characters so well, Mike O'Brien, was in limbo while they seemed unsure of what to do. It was as though they were waiting to see if they could find someone better. So they eventually do push Mike back to the writers' room, and for whom? A Mike O'Brien clone. What exactly is the thought process here?
- Weekend Update in general: I like drier humor, like that of Chevy Chase or Kevin Nealon. (Or anyone before Dennis Miller, for that matter.) That's why I didn't care for Cecily at the desk, or Fallon, Fey, or Poehler. Colin Jost and Michael Che both take a fairly dry approach, which is good. However, dry jokes have to fly off at high speed; they need a snappy delivery. Colin and Michael have not been doing that, and it means a lot of well-written jokes aren't getting the laughs they deserve. Also, there have been some attempts at interplay between them, such as tonight's discussion on what they can say. I assume this is because there wasn't much chemistry between anchors last year. These bits aren't working, though. They're supposed to be talking to each other, but they're staring straight into the teleprompters. They just don't work. (Though the lines "Can I say 'bae'?" "No!" "Because I'm white?" No, because you're thirty!" made me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe. Good dialogue; bad implementation.)
In summation: It's not terrible; in fact, on a letter-grade scale, I'd give it a B. But it's not living up to potential. There's a lot that could be so much better than it is.
EDIT October 12
Ohhhhhkaaaay, starting to think somebody at NBC reads this wiki. When I suggested Beck Bennett and they wound up picking him up a few months later, I thought it was a coincidence. But then, last night:
- Not only was the cast exposure more balanced, but they specifically put Vanessa and Pete in back-to-back sketches, right after I complained they weren't given enough exposure. (In fact, they kind of used Pete a lot for a new hire. Remember, Sasheer's a featured player, too.)
- In that vein, I must say it was an awesome idea to do a sketch where the only people included were featured players. This should become a thing on SNL. (And speaking of things from this blog, there was Leslie again.)
- Lousy memorial for Don Pardo, mentioned here, and this week they did a much better job with the passing of Jan Hooks. (I wonder if they got the idea to play that sketch from the internet as well- I saw a high-voted comment somewhere on social media saying she was "dancing with Phil again".
- No conversation in Update this week.
I may be crazy. I may also be repeating what a thousand other SNL fans have said. Who knows?