September 28, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Chris Pratt


It’s Year 40 for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and like many prosperous middle-aged citizens, SNL has no interest at all in shaking up its comfortable life.  Tonight’s season premiere could, with a few cast adjustments, have been the premiere of any season over the past decade.  Even though there were only two franchise sketches on display, most of the show felt like an efficient repeat of what SNL has been doing for a long time.

That’s not to say there weren’t some changes.  One was the sad absence of Don Pardo from the announcer’s microphone.  For tonight, at least, his replacement, old SNL hand Darrell Hammond, didn’t try anything fancy with his lines, reciting them in a voice that refrained from imitating Pardo’s trademark stentorian boom.

Weekend Update also had its latest change of regime, with Cecily Strong unfortunately sent back to a pure sketch role while Colin Jost unaccountably kept his job, and with Michael Che, very recently of The Daily Show, brought in as Strong’s replacement.  Che, despite a few ragged moments with the cue-cards, already has five times the personality Jost has shown since last season, and that gives one hope that Update could cultivate a real comic voice for the first time in years.  (Strong was Update‘s first desk piece guest of the season, bringing back her Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At a Party, which was a nice touch.)  Another promising part of Update was the first showcase piece for new featured player Pete Davidson, who made a strong impression with his bit about how willing he’d be to perform oral sex on a man for some cash, especially before the holidays.  Davidson also had more to do in the night’s sketches than a newbie is usually given.  And if that weren’t enough, at long last Update brought back Leslie Jones, a staff writer whose first on-camera appearance (with a piece about dating and slavery) caused the kind of controversy that makes modern-day Lorne Michaels shy away.  She was finally back, and although tonight’s piece wasn’t as biting as the last (and one wishes she’d had Che as her straight man rather than Jost), she killed it.

And oh yes, Chris Pratt hosted.  Both he and the show seemed unsettled about how much live comedy he could handle, and while he was in most of the sketches, he didn’t get much chance to be memorable.  He made a quick appearance as Roger Goodell in the typically weak cold open about the NFL crisis, which mostly featured Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah doing shtick as Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe.  Pratt’s monologue was, believe it or not, a song, for approximately the 900th time in recent years.  It’s a monologue concept that at this point needs to receive at least a season-long moratorium.

A sketch about a boy (Kyle Mooney) wishing his action figures alive (Pratt, Taran Killam and musical guest Ariana Grande) was never as funny or imaginative as it should have been, settling instead for masturbation jokes and Aidy Bryant, as Mooney’s mom, whisking the living toys out to her hot tub.  That was followed by the surprising return of the Animal Hospital sketch where the gag is that all the pets have died, a textbook SNL example of, well, beating a dead [fill in animal].

There had to be a Guardians of the Galaxy parody, of course, and although all Pratt did was mimic his stride down the spaceship hallway from Guardians to “Hooked On A Feeling,” the concept of the pretaped piece was strong, floating the idea that at this point, Marvel can make a hit out of anything–up to and including “Shopping Carts” and “Pam: The Winter Soldier.”

Pratt only really came into his own with a post-Update sketch where he and Bryant were a shy pair at a bar who would hesitantly try to talk to each other and then break into hip-hop raunch.  The two were terrific together, and Pratt held his own despite having to deliver some very fast and furious lyrics live.

He was only one of the many participants in the show’s second NFL-related sketch, this one a procession of players introduced not by their colleges but by their arrest records.  It was nicely put together in terms of gradually escalating the silliness of the trouble they’d gotten into, topped with a perfectly-timed Leslie Jones appearance as one of the players’ wives.

The night wrapped up with an innocuous piece about the testing of a video game which featured its prince and princess (Pratt and Vanessa Bayer) making out furiously to celebrate every time the players solved a puzzle.  It seemed like there was something there, especially with Kenan Thompson showed up as the game’s evil wizard, but either the writers never figured it out or it was slashed in the editing process.

The night’s pre-tapes were a mixed bag:  apart from the Marvel sketch, there was a standard fake commercial (white people take a version of Cialis that not only cures sexual dysfunction, but makes them tigers in the bedroom), and a very strange parody of a 1980s-era multi-camera sitcom “very special” episode, where Pratt’s character took up with a group of literal “bad boys,” about 12 years old.

In all, the night was another example of the way SNL plugs its hosts generically into sketches, with little appreciation for what they can do comedically on their own.  Weekend Update provided the most promising part of the night, and if that could be sustained, it would be genuinely good news for the show.

Perhaps next week will be more distinctive, with host (and for a brief time SNL writer and cast member) Sarah Silverman hosting, and Maroon 5 (or as NBC thinks of it, That Band With The Guy From The Voice) as musical guests.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."