'Saturday Night Live' recap: The return of the king (a.k.a. Alec Baldwin) | EW.com

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'Saturday Night Live' recap: The return of the king (a.k.a. Alec Baldwin)

Well, summer is officially over, PopWatchers. There’s no way of sugarcoating it, either. It totally stinks. But hey, at least with the fall comes a new season…of television! (See what I did there?) Now, if you were wondering how the writers of Saturday Night Live, which kicked off its 37th season last night, spent their summer vacations, the answer was right in front of you: penning that 10-minute opening sketch.

So how exactly did they make a 10-minute long skit bearable? Well besides there being no Fred Armisen as President Obama in sight (yeah, I said it!), they did what they often do best: riff on the current political climate. Kicking things off with “either the seventh or eighth” GOP debate, moderator Shepard Smith (played my personal pick for SNL MVP, Bill Hader) announced that he comes from a town “full of secrets,” then introduced Mitt Romney (I’d say “Welcome back, Jason Sudeikis!”, but we know what you did this summer) and Rick Perry (host Alec Baldwin). Then he introduced “six other people who will never be President, but showed up anyway,” including Jon Huntsman (Taran Killam), Ron Paul (Paul Brittain), Herman Cain (Kenan Thompson), Rick Santorum (Andy Samberg), Michelle Bachmann (Kristen Wiig) and Newt Gingrich (Bobby Moynahan).

Baldwin--who looked good standing in front of a podium, just sayin'--earned solid laughs (you could tell early on, this audience was in very much into it) as Perry by managing to alienate just about every group in 10 seconds. Sudeikis, who dressed as Romney but more or less played his charming self, pointed out all the obvious reasons why he's the better candidate. ("Next to Newt Gingrich, I have a normal, human-sized head.") But the skit also found time for the rest of the candidates, including Killam's Huntsman, who gave a terribly racist rundown of Chinese history, Moynahan's Gingrich, who, as it turned out, doesn't really want to be president at all, and Samberg's Santorum, who seemed "confused and flabbergasted by modern day life." (Although, to be fair, he could have just followed up on Jon Stewart's suggestion to Google himself.)

Wiig's take on Bachmann didn't quite have the same impact as Tina Fey's instantly iconic impression of Sarah Palin (note to Wiig: use more crazy eye). Thompson's Cain sounded a little too much like his impression of Jimmy "The Rent Is Too Damn High" McMillan (can't he run for President?). But Killam's hilariously exaggerated take on Paul, who stuck to his "weird old guns" by suggesting he wouldn't even save puppies from a burning building, rounded out the skit nicely. The sketch started to head into Rick Perry territory towards the end (i.e. "tired and confused"). By the time Hader yelled "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" that excitement that fans have felt for the past 37 years for this show set right back in.

Of course, there was a little extra excitement in the air. Last night's season premiere marked Baldwin's record-breaking 16th time as host, something he brought up almost immediately in the monologue. He also noted that he surpassed his pal, fellow repeat host Steve Martin. "When I hosted the Oscars, Steve was a big help," zinged Baldwin. (He even zinged AFA group One Million Moms for criticizing Ben & Jerry's Pete Schweddy-inspired ice cream Schweddy Balls, to which Baldwin suggested, “Go Fudge Yourself.”) Lucky for us, Martin (who honestly can make me break into laughter with nothing more than a simple glare) happened to be “passing by the studio in full makeup”! In the words of Bart Simpson, “Overload, pleasure overload!” But Martin had an ulterior motive for visiting his nemesis (pronounced “nuh-mee-sis,” by the way): Make Baldwin take a drug test to insure he wasn’t cheating by using steroids. With a little help from surprise guest visitor–and “expert on drug use”– Seth Rogen and his own uniquely disgusting method of testing drugs, Martin concluded that Baldwin was clean. This rivalry is just as good as Baldwin and Krasinski’s, wouldn’t you say, PopWatchers? Here’s hoping SNL has Martin back to host soon to tie up the score again (the comic actor does have a new movie opening next month).

Now, on with the show. Since there were no new cast members to pay close attention to (Lorne Michaels is nothing if not a man of his word), we could focus on which skits were the strongest. And there was soon a strong contender for the prize. Though it probably won't quite join the pantheon of all-time great fake SNL commercials like "Oops, I Crapped My Pants" and "Mom Jeans," a spoof of snooty perfume ads called "Red Flag" was still great. It hawked a fragrance that gives off warning signs about an otherwise desirable woman (she lived in Las Vegas for 11 years, all of her friends are male, her pinky nail is way longer than her other nails). I'm giving all the credit to Wiig on this one (though, to be honest, I've already watched Bridesmaids three times this week so I'm on a bit of a Wiig kick) for being actual funny, not "yikes funny."

The All My Children wrap party skit that followed was solid, if a little predictable. A group of ridiculously named people (Cornelius Devanche, Glenda St. Jesus, for example) who all had one time or another worked on the now-defunct soap gathered to say goodbye, only to reveal they had some daytime television-worthy twists of their own (dramatic close-ups and all!). The skit ran just the right amount of time and provided enough hearty laughs, including Samberg's soaplike character realizing he's lost ("Not so fast...Oh, wrong room, I'm sorry!") and Sudeikis' character, fan operator Wendell Scagg's absurd declaration ("I operate the fans...or was I pushed?!") to make the first half-hour seem like SNL was officially on a roll.

Quick commercial sidebar note: Right after the All My Children skit aired, there was an ad for Adam Sandler's upcoming flick Jack and Jill. For those of you confused, this wasn’t a lost or archived SNL skit about a spoof movie starring Sandler as both a brother and a sister (the latter of which he’s playing in drag). This is a real movie. Plan your Nov. 11 weekend accordingly.

Anyone that has ever sat through a news broadcast or talk show with a delayed live feed (so, in short, everyone that’s ever watched a news broadcast or talk show) likely got a kick out of watching Wiig as a Buffalo newscaster doing a troubled-from-the-start report from Costa Rica. She’s unaware she has spiders and giant beetles crawling on her until her co-anchors back home (Baldwin and Abby Elliott) inform her. The sketch went from fairly amusing to all kinds of awesome when Wiig is virtually swallowed whole by what could only be the anaconda Jon Voight was chasing back in 1997.

Speaking of the ’90s, musical guests Radiohead,  making  only their second visit to Studio 8H, hit the stage a little after midnight. For those  hoping for some nostalgic Radiohead, you were out of luck. The band played the moody (you know, as opposed to their other songs) newbie “Lotus Flower” the first time out and then rocked out to the, er, moody track “Staircase.” Unless you’re a hardcore fan, you likely didn’t recognize either of the songs, but you’ve gotta admit the band still sound as good as you remembered them in college.

Okay, confession time, PopWatchers. And no, not just that I’m one of those folks unfamiliar with Radiohead’s catalog beyond Kid A (for shame, I know!). All summer, I’ve been looking forward to the return of Bill Hader’s deliriously weird Weekend Update correspondent Stefon. Is it really too much to ask that the character be on every week and tell me all about New York’s hottest nightclub? Alas, there was no Stefon (booooooooof), but Baldwin did revive his Tony Bennett impersonation (maybe he brushed up on his mannerisms while attending his recent birthday bash). Thank goodness, too, because the first Weekend Update of the new season felt downright old. Bill Gates haircut jokes? Really?!

If Seth Meyers wasn’t willing to push any buttons during Weekend Update, the next skit, the faux game show “Who’s On Top?” definitely did. (I suspect this will soon become a drinking game.) The premise? Guess which hypothetical sex partners would, well, you get the idea. Examples of the pairings that you won’t be able to un-see in your mind: Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen (Correct answer: Joel), Roberto Benigni and Gerard Depardieu (Correct answer: Benigni), and The Lion King’s Timon and Pumba (Correct answer: Even. “It’s a circle of life”).

Usually as SNL goes on, the skits tend to get weaker. So imagine my surprise when the screen tests from Top Gun, which included Bill Hader's scarily dead-on Alan Alda (MVP! MVP! MVP!), aired around 12:30 in the morning. Though it was downright baffling as to how Jay Pharoah wasn't included here and it wasn't quite as good as the Back to the Future screen tests from last season (there was, however, an appearance by Crispin Glover, thanks to Andy Samberg), this could have easily been featured in the first 20 minutes of the show.

Then again, it would have been better if the show had just ended here, because the last two skits all but killed the good mojo that the episode had built up. The episode's worst bit (by a long shot) featured Baldwin as a child psychologist on a date while his crying daughter (Nasim Pedrad) interrupts. This was about as fun as having a bowl of tapioca dumped on your head. The episode-ender, a war movie spoof about dying soldiers with bizarre final requests (tell their children Santa doesn't exist, make "Your mom's so fat" jokes), was just okay enough to get a pass.

So, here we are, PopWatchers, a new season of SNL and it's off to a fairly strong start, thanks in part to the reliably great hosting skills of Alec Baldwin. (By the way, does anyone know what the sign he held up reading "She's my Carla" meant?) Sure, there were no belly laughs to be found, but it was an overall enjoyable premiere that had enough strong skits and was void of any real January Jones-like awkwardness.

But I’m curious. What did you think of it, PopWatchers? Did Baldwin do his record-setting hosting gig justice or do you wish he’d pulled out old favorites like the Canteen Boy’s Scoutmaster? Do you have high hopes for Melissa McCarthy hosting next week? Share in the comments section below and be sure to read Ken Tucker’s review of last night’s season premiere.

Read more:
‘SNL’: Alec Baldwin and Radiohead kick off the 37th season premiere.
What’s your favorite Alec Baldwin ‘SNL’ moment?
Alec Baldwin talks Ben & Jerry’s Schweddy Balls ice cream: ‘They sent me a sample months ago’

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