Miles Teller and Kendrick Lamar Help Saturday Night Live Get Off to a Solid Start
With eight cast departures, Saturday Night Live is a show in flux entering its 48th season. Opening with Miles Teller hosting and Kendrick Lamar as the musical guest, the premiere had a lot to accomplish, parodying cultural events that have taken place since last season’s late May finale, while also integrating new faces Devon Walker, Marcello Hernández, Molly Kearney, and Devon Walker.
As with any SNL episode, the sketches were a grabbag of baffling pop culture jokes (a four-minute sketch about the Charmin Bears lasted three minutes too long), an array of characters ranging from two game-less finance bros to Mitch McConnell, and a handful of savvy, timely bits (like a bonkers Bowen Yang bit about the dreaded red lanternfly). Below are the three essential sketches you should watch, as well as a recap of an impressive performance by Lamar in his third time on the SNL stage.
A successful cold open dubs Season 48 a “rebuilding year” for SNL.
SNL got uncharacteristically meta with the first cold open of the year. In the inaugural sketch, Miles Teller and Andrew Dismnukes played Peyton and Eli Manning in a parody of the brothers’ Manningcast football analysis show focused on the myriad of changes leading into season 48. The sketch-within-the-sketch was about Donald Trump’s current controversy around the hoarding of classified documents, giving the writers a chance to poke fun at their show’s heavy reliance on long, meandering Trump sketches over the last few years.
When Heidi Gardner entered doing an impression of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, the Mannings lamented the departure of veteran Kate McKinnon, who did some of the series most popular political characters, such as Rudy Giuliani. The open also featured some intentional floundering from Bowen Yang and Sarah Sherman, as well as Jon Hamm in the role of guest analyst. “They haven’t even used Kenan yet, that’s like putting a whole team of Elis on the field when you’ve got Peyton sitting on the sidelines,” he said. Hamm joked about having scouted Walker, only for him to flounder in his brief time on camera. Then the sketch took on another meta layer, with Hamm poking fun at SNL having to settle for a mere co-star of the biggest movie of the summer (read: Top Gun: Maverick) since he Tom Cruise and passed, with Teller-as-Manning-as-Teller growing increasingly irate, pointing out how it’s a rare honor to even have the guest in the cold open.
Describing SNL as being in a “rebuilding year” and likening its cast to the New York Jets, the sketch smartly played on the precarious status of network comedy in the social media era, even going so far as to have one new cast member impersonate the TikTok corn kid and two others do the Griddy dance. There will be some palpable growing pains as SNL integrates the new cast members and figures out life in a post-McKinnon, Chris Redd, Pete Davidson, Aidy Bryant, and Kyle Mooney world, but addressing it head on is clearly the right approach.
Kendrick impressed with two simple, but effective performances.
Lamar appeared on SNL coming off the American leg of his Big Steppers Tour and sounded razor sharp in his performances, first with a medley of “Rich Spirit” and “N95” and then “Father Time” with Sampha. Both of his sets converted the music stage into a three-walled room with a strong minimalist aesthetic. The “Rich Spirit” performance made clever use of the shadow cast by the spotlight, which appeared to be Kendrick’s own but took on a life of its own during the song’s second verse, while “Father Time” turned the small SNL stage into a thematic crutch, with the walls literally closing in on Kendrick and Sampha as the song progressed.
Reception to Kendrick’s tour has been highly positive, and even in the more intimate setting of an SNL performance, he managed to channel some of that scale and ambition. The stage for “Father Time” seemed meant to evoke the cover of his latest LP, and once again there was a tasteful understatedness that allowed the music to shine. (Plus, managing to get a live performance from the famously reclusive Sampha is no small feat, even for one of the world’s biggest rappers.) Unfortunately Kendrick didn’t pop up in any sketches, but after two stellar performances, how could you ask for more?
The premiere’s best bit nailed the innate irony of BeReal.
As with any network TV show, sometimes Saturday Night Live parodies something well after its moment of cultural relevance, leading to an awkward four minutes of how-do-you-do-fellow-kids-ing. But the best skit of the night threaded the line on relevance and parody beautifully, when the show shrewdly lambasted the rise of BeReal–the new social media platform that became omnipresent this summer–in a digital short where the app’s notification going off during a bank robbery. A stressed hostage (Yang) and one of the robbers (Teller), have a droll back-and-forth that perfectly mimics the conversation BeReal PR wants people to be having about their app.
“It’s the only honest social media,” Yang says.
“You think I’m an idiot? Honest social media doesn’t exist!” Teller answers, gun in hand.
“You’re so cynical. I was too! But with BeReal, you can only post once a day when the app sends out a notification,” Yang responds.
“Oh, so there’s no posturing and it’s not status-oriented and that’s why it’s called BeReal,” Teller says.
By using such on-the-nose language, SNL not only pokes fun at the app itself, but the way scores of people have taken to it, using the exact language the company wants them to when explaining its appeal. That gives the sketch longer legs, because it works not only as a joke about the hot new social media platform of the moment, but the way people are constantly looking for an antidote to social media in the form of…more social media.
A game show sketch about creepy DMs satirized a thorny subject.
Another timely parody came in the “Send Something Normal” sketch, which presented a game show where celebrity contestants Adam Levine, Armie Hammer, and Neil deGrasse Tyson had to respond to a woman’s Instagram DM without being unsettlingly creepy to win $100 million. (Bowen Yang was also there playing himself, the show’s returning champion.)
The Levine and Hammer impressions, by Mikey Day and James Austin Johnson, respectively, sometimes veered a little off the mark, but the core concept of the sketch really worked, giving these famous men a nominal shot at redemption only for them to completely blow it. (Tyson has not had a DMing scandal, and the show itself neglects to mention his string of sexual misconduct allegations, that would seemingly make him a logical inclusion.)
Making light of famous men harassing women is a fraught topic, but SNL manages to wring out some genuine laughs–multiple contestants ask to see the woman in question’s “most liked vacation photo”–while painting the celebrities as inappropriate, boundary-crossing weirdos. “Send Something Normal” does make these guys’ indiscretions seem pretty fangless, but it’s good to keep their behavior in the cultural conversation, which is the point of timely comedy. (The kicker, Yang’s reaction to a DM from Dua Lipa, is an excellent touch.)
Parody feels good in a sketch like this.
The second digital short of the night took aim at Nicole Kidman’s AMC commercial, which has become a phenomenon unto itself. From lampooning the melodramatic ridiculousness of Kidman’s dialog to the growing trend of moviegoers standing up to salute when it plays in theaters, this was another winning bit of timely satire. Season 48, off to a pretty good start so far!