The biggest newsmakers of the past week were former SNL hosts Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, yet Saturday Night Live couldn't come up with a truly inspired cold open to kick off the season. "Whenever SNL returns after a long break, there's an inevitable temptation to look at whatever the show delivers and grumble, 'With four months, that was the best they could come up with?' as if the writers room has been open non-stop since May, crafting and honing and refining six Platonic ideal sketches to start the season off right," says Daniel Fienberg. "Yeah, season-openers are just as slapdash as any other episode, which is especially true at a historical moment in which the gap from one episode to the next could force the writers to choose between 10 or 15 bumbles, gaffes or scandals relating to Former Saturday Night Live Host Donald Trump. By that standard, the writers actually got incredibly lucky this week, with most of the conversation points around Former Saturday Night Live Host Donald Trump concerning impeachment, whistleblowing and the Ukraine, which all yielded a cold open in which a lot of cast members did quickie impressions of people in Former Saturday Night Live Host Donald Trump's sphere and Alec Baldwin remained on Emmy-winning cruise control."
Celebrity drop-ins were the bright spot -- and that's a problem: Host Woody Harrelson "stepped in as Joe Biden, wearing a set of particularly shiny dentures; Larry David returned as Bernie Sanders, a role he played during the 2016 election with ornery aplomb; and Maya Rudolph showed up as Kamala Harris, dominating proceedings with a recurring bit about her fondness for empty catchphrases," says David Sims. "All three performers were solid, but none can be relied on to stop by every week as the show gears up to cover the Democratic primaries. Michaels’s tendency to rely on veterans who will grab headlines is understandable, but it means newer cast members like Ego Nwodim and Melissa Villaseñor remain on the sidelines unable to make a name for themselves. As the 45th season of the show moves forward, developing the rest of the cast should be SNL’s priority, not putting in calls to Ray Donovan."
Alec Baldwin's Trump cold open was dispiritingly toothless, but the Democratic debate sketch wasn't much better: "If the cold open was glib and lukewarm on the subject, the Democratic town hall was an outright embarrassment of pandering guest spots and deadeningly tone-deaf mischaracterization," says Dennis Perkins, adding: "For the SNL machine to gaze over the smoldering news landscape concerning the gathering impeachment sh*tstorm and decide that 'watery, irrelevantly inoffensive celebrity impression' was the direction to go in suggests that it’s Saturday Night Live, rather than the Democrats, who can’t focus up and do the damned job."
Season premiere gave off a same-as-it-ever-was vibe: "The show’s political coverage has felt lost in a sea of Trump these past few years, with the lack of any specific point of view beyond 'Trump = bad,'" says Larry Getlen. "Given that, seeing three political sketches in the season premiere, two of which merely existed to give as many cast members as possible some screen time, shows they not only haven’t figured out how to give their political material more bite, but haven’t bothered trying. SNL seems increasingly unwilling to rock the boat or even offer any pointed opinions beyond the one they know their viewers already share."
So far, SNL Season 45 looks like Season 44: "The show is still stuck lampooning the Trump years in all their excruciating absurdity with the uneasy knowledge that it’s a major player, and a major target, in the resulting culture wars," says Rob Harvilla, adding: "Draw your own conclusions from the fact that the funniest thing to happen during the SNL season premiere was definitely not supposed to happen," which was Aidy Bryant's breaking over wardrobe malfunction.
Andrew Yang responds to Bowen Yang playing him: “Haha great to see @bowenyang as me on @nbcsnl!” In a separate tweet, he added: “Tip to the @nbcsnl writers – you should work on some new lines for @bowenyang because I’ll be here all through 2020.”