Saturday Night Live (Season Premiere, 11:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC) is an American institution. Going into its 42nd season this week, the sketch comedy show has become one of the longest-running network television programs in the country.
Of course, SNL is one of those shows that’s never as good as it used to be, whether you’re referring to the original cast, the Chris Farley/Mike Myers/Adam Sandler era or Tina Fey’s seasons. It’s like a rite of passage to hate on the current cast until the show hits another eventual high point. But it’s hard to deny that SNL has slipped in recent years. There’s usually only a single knockout episode with the season’s biggest star host and a sprinkling of solid pre-recorded musical skits throughout the season. Yet each year I return, hoping the right mix of writers, cast and crew might capture the same energy as favorite seasons past.
I imagine it’s how Bengals fans feel sometimes.
So let’s start with the positives. Changes are coming in the form of writing team: Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider have been promoted to co-head writers and there are seven new staff writers. Kate McKinnon, fresh off her Emmy win, is likely the biggest player of the cast right now. The Ghostbusters breakout star portrays Hillary Clinton, which will be a regular character in at least the first several episodes this season, and her collection of kooky characters will also keep her busy.
Former cast member Darrell Hammond (1995-2009) will continue to serve as the show’s announcer while stepping in as Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, two of his longtime impressions. New featured players include promoted writer Mikey Day, Chicago improviser Alex Moffat and stand-up impressionist Melissa Villaseñor, the show’s first Latina cast member. Michael Che, Pete Davidson and Leslie Jones have all been bumped up to repertory status.
The season will also feature more sketches and longer bits, thanks to a 30 percent reduction of commercials during the show — hopefully this means more of a good thing, and not that we’ll have to sit through skits that otherwise would have been left on the cutting-room floor.
On the downside, SNL booted two of its longest-running cast members (since 2010) that dominate impressions, including the only player that portrays our current president. Saturday’s season opener features host Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn) and musical guest The Weeknd.
Picks of the Week
American Horror Story: Roanoke (10 p.m. Wednesday, FX) – This week, the trio looks for Flora, who vanished last week leaving only her yellow hoodie behind … at the top of a hauntingly tall tree.
Westworld (Series Premiere, 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO) – Exploring “the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin,” Westworld takes place at an eponymous futuristic amusement park where attendees live out their Wild West fantasies — from shootouts to brothel-hopping — by taking advantage of hyper-realistic androids. The drama stars Anthony Hopkins as the park’s mastermind director, Ed Harris as a gun-slinging park cowboy, Evan Rachel Wood as a Western farm girl who discovers her life is not what she thought and many more stellar actors.
The Mindy Project (Season Premiere, Tuesday, Hulu) – People have a very important choice to make this fall. For some, it’s a presidential candidate. For Mindy, it’s Jody or Danny. Picking up with the love triangle created in Season 4’s cliffhanger finale, this season features guest stars Nasim Pedrad, Bryan Greenberg and B.J. Novak.
This Is Us (10 p.m. Tuesday, NBC) – Looking to fill the weepy family dramedy void that Parenthood left? This touchy-feely series is easy to like and… that twist! Kate gets support from her new boyfriend as she struggles to lose weight; Beth questions the motives of Randall’s biological father, William; marriage and raising three children begin to take a toll on Rebecca and Jack.
CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern