Saturday Night Live recap: Wow! Owen Wilson makes hosting debut with season 47 premiere
Greetings and salutations, fellow Coneheads (and perpetual hate-watchers.) It's the return of Saturday Night Live, and you know what that means: the reemergence of your handy, digestible pocket size SNL in Review show recaps. The season 47 opener is being hosted by Owen Wilson with musical guest Kacey Musgraves.
It has been a long, hot, sticky summer hiatus for SNL fans, filled, as always, with intrigue. Despite the return of studio live shows (following the pandemic shutdowns), and the conclusion of Trump-era cold opens, modern SNL remains at a crossroads. The show is comfort food, steady and traditional -—a standard bearer for a bygone era — with an extremely youthful core audience. And you can see that tension in the cast itself. Over a third of the returning cast members have their own high-profile projects in addition to doing their yeoman comedy here. Michael Che, Aidy Bryant, Kenan Thompson, and Cecily Strong have their own shows; Bowen Yang is on Nora From Queens. Pete Davidson and Kate McKinnon in another era would be full fledged movie stars at this point. Yet they remain.
So, this season's new cast additions signal the show's desire to adapt, and perhaps overhaul its approach to comedy. Sarah Sherman a.k.a. Sarah Squirm is an alternative comedy extraordinaire, a clown whose talents were born in the Chicago DIY scene, raised on Adult Swim. James Austin Johnson's Trump impression nailed the former president's deceptive banality and small-minded foolishness in a way SNL staffers never could; he went viral numerous times in the run-up to the 2020 election. (Hint: he also has a pitch perfect Biden! That appears to have been scrubbed from his social platforms! hmm)
Anyway, this season will be absent cast members Lauren Holt — who got Luke Nulled — and, critically, Beck Bennett, who has left the show after a long tenure. I have long considered Bennett a live action Randy Marsh, who was brilliant at sending up white male absurdity, a fixture during the show's political cold opens. He will be missed.
I am joined tonight by former SNL cast members Gary Kroeger and Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who recently released Rushed, which she wrote, produced and starred in. It is now available on all streaming platforms. On the recent cast departures, Fallon Hogan advises: "Be grateful you had your time on SNL. It's a fabulous chapter in your career. There are all kinds of opportunities ahead of you, and enjoy the ride." On Beck Bennett leaving, Kroeger adds: "In this very column last year I said that Beck Bennett was my favorite performer on SNL. It wasn't because of a specific character although it's hard not to single out Putin but the way he approaches performance. He sticks to the reality of the scene and character he is playing. He stays right in the lane, and often that anchors the humor."
That's enough table setting. Lets' see what our favorite late night live sketch show has in store! Release the Kraken!
Biden unites the Democrats! Or does he? Of course, a cold open like this makes hay of the chaos that's been gleefully promoted by the DC press corps. Anyway, the president — now played by new cast member James Austin Johnson! Wow. — jokes about his summer being bad — at least he is excited for Broadway being back. Some digs at Axios style reporting ensues.
Cecily Strong is the silly, contrary Senator Kyrsten Sinema (she doesn't want roads for… chaos); and Aidy Bryant is Joe Manchin, essentially redoing her take on Ted Cruz. (Taking easy cracks about children working in mines is… not ideal.) Then the progressives are led by Ego Nwodim and Melissa Villasenor (as AOC!)
Pete Davidson inexplicably reprises his role as the disgraced former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He's plugging his new book, Whoops. And do not worry America, SNL's former Biden, Alex Moffat, is still around, playing the role of (the forgettable) Chuck Schumer.
Gary Kroeger has this to say about Johnson, the TikTok sensation and definitive Trump impressionist, now doing Biden: "Simply uncanny how he can improvise Trump's meandering stream of consciousness. Obviously, the show isn't going to let up on the vein of humor found in the ex-president. My advice to any cast member is to enjoy staying up late. The work gets done, the characters get chosen long after dinner." And now, the show has given him the ball on Biden, bringing in a ringer essentially. Their coverage/take on the current president was all over the place last season. As a viewer, this move is reassuring, as well as a huge vote of confidence to a newcomer.
In the year of our lord, Owen Wilson hosts SNL. I would've expected him to host during his Frat Pack heyday in the early 2000s, but nope. His brother Luke has even hosted. I wonder why now — does it have to do with his participation in the Disney/MCU publicity machine? He also has The French Dispatch out. Anyway, love Owen and glad he's finally here!
He jokes about the vaccine coming out — for everyone except Florida. His two brothers, Luke and Andrew, are in attendance to watch. He compares hosting SNL to performing live music — and questions the poor souls writing reviews of the show in real time. (Huh! Who would do that!?) He says he felt incredible pressure when Daniel Day Lewis retired, and that's why he did Cars 3. He then questions whether tonight's show will be good. "Chill out for the next 90 minutes," he offers.
Fallon Hogan says: "I love Owen Wilson. He has had a brilliant career. Starting with Bottle Rocket, he is amazing in every movie. My very favorite is The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, beyond hilarious!"
Kroeger adds: "I love Owen Wilson for the same reason everybody loves Owen Wilson. He delivers such an honest performance even though his method is a bit quirky. He has his own look, voice, mannerisms, and yet what comes together is always someone relatable. There is an unavoidable sincerity to every performance."
'The Talking' Women's Talk Show
Here we have a spoof of The View. Ego Nwodim, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, and Heidi Gardner get to squabble. They have opinions at 11 in the morning! Owen Wilson appears as a doctor — he must tell Gardner about her positive breakthrough COVID-19 test.
Their first guest is "Da" Pope. Or is it just Pope? Owen Wilson returns for some contact testing. Oof!
Billionaire Star Trek
Paramount+ presents a new crew! Jeff Bezos is on an ego quest - good to see Luke Wilson back on the show! Alex Moffat is Richard Branson. "A midlife crisis of cosmic proportions!" This is OK, despite Wilson being nothing like Jeff Bezos really.
Owen Wilson is in the Pixar recording studio with sound engineers Mikey Day and Punkie Johnson. Chunks of dialogue are being sent over for animators to sneakily stitch together the latest Pixar sequel. So Wilson has to say a bunch of things out of context. Turns out Lightning McQueen is going after someone's daughter, creeping on girl cars. "Grow up man your sister sure did!" "Oh you're in high school, could've fooled me!"
James Austin Johnson gets another good impression in! He's Larry the Cable Guy. This is a strong first episode. Oh man, laying into Owen's Pixar money a few times tonight. The sketch ends with him, while conflicted with the beloved character's dark turn, ultimately going along with the new direction given the pay day. Ha.
School Board Meeting
Alex Moffat and Ego Nwodim are leading a school board meeting discussion over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. They're the straight people in this sketch. Robert E. Lee Middle School is now Robert E. Lee Was Bad Middle School. It's a school board meeting, and Cecily Strong is a crazy, concerned participant. She does not have a child and isn't from the town. Punkie Johnson gave her kid (Chris Redd) a bootleg vaccine. Heidi Gardner is pissed about critical race theory and doesn't know why. Owen Wilson is Mr. Dodd, a science teacher at the school. He has confused the word "separating" the students by six feet with "segregating." Jan Krang (Aidy Bryant) appears, and she's mad about vaping and "analling" near her house.
Ugh, Kyle Mooney as a teenager needs to stop. Andrew Dismukes can pull it off; Mooney hasn't for a very long time. Remarkably, Pete Davidson is doing another very basic impression tonight. He's Dog the Bounty Hunter. More compellingly, Sarah Sherman pops up! I want more. I guess the whole cast is joining in here. Goofy, overstuffed fun.
Kacey Musgraves — "Justified"
This is Kacey Musgraves' second single off her album Star-Crossed. A very solid rendition and well-executed performance. Kroeger is a big fan. "I love her early work the most. Sounds strange to say since she's so young, but when she came on the scene years ago, she was a refreshing voice in country music. Her sound was country, but her lyrics and subject matter were much more in tune with being young in this day and age. She had a song called "Follow Your Arrow" which I loved. I'm not as familiar with her new work, but it feels more like pop. Which probably has a greater appeal."
Here we go! Another season with Colin Jost and Michael Che kicks off with wild applause. As Jost points out, the topic of infrastructure isn't as wild and insane as the Trump years. Che takes a crack at Biden's stutter — a cheap shot. Woof! Jost has a good joke about Eminem and Macklemore.
Our first segment: Missing White Woman Syndrome is discussed by Ego Nwodim, as a black woman who has been missing for 10 years. She calls out the photo of her used in the media, and the money reward for her recovery. This is a sharp take on huge discrepancies in media coverage and racial justice. "Even in movies, black women can't get attention." Ego is amazing. "Ya'll haven't even asked my name!" she cries.
Pete Davidson shows up to discuss the "elitist" Met Gala. He is wearing a Norm Macdonald T-shirt. RIP Norm. Pointing out he wore a dress at the Met Gala, Davidson jokes about his homophobic uncle who grew up in the 80s, whose favorite movie is Top Gun. (He also asks Jost if people hated him after making Tom & Jerry.) "I can't believe I'm back!" he shouts.
It is a bittersweet night for the show. Jost points out the recently departed Norm Macdonald is why he wanted to do Update. They turn the rest of the segment over to old clips of the former anchor telling jokes. Hilarious, and touchy, and classy.
On Macdonald, Gary Kroeger says: "I sometimes winced at things he would say, but he established the fact that his humor is honest and that he sees comedy as something that has to be fearless. I admired him very much."
Miriam Lewis (Heidi Gardner) has passed on. Owen Wilson is her priest, saluting her free spirit. The favorite thing Miriam did was play the slots at Atlantic City. Her favorite performer was Levar B. Burton (Kenan Thompson). Don't forget the B, very important letter, legally. He arrives to sing "I Believe I Can Fly." Her grandchildren Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong are upset about an R. Kelly song being performed. Seems their nan also hangs out with Donald Trump and Bill Cosby. Nana's favorite song? "Ignition (the Remix)." Not bad! I like Kenan singing songs from the '90s!
Kacey Musgraves — "Camera Roll"
Another moving ballad off Musgrave's last album. Very touching. After a break-up, you "go through your camera roll" romanticizing a failed relationship. But you also do not want to completely dispose of those images. So this song is about reconciling those feelings in a healthy way.
NFL on Fox
It's James Austin Johnson again! What an incredible debut. He's co-hosting NFL on Fox with Owen Wilson. They're confused by the rest of the show and the network programming… and one new Fox show in particular. I love the Crazy House commercial pop-ups. "I just read what they give me," says Johnson. The monster puppet appears with Stacey Abrams.
It's a commercial set for a pair of eccentric, married doctors. Andrew Dismukes and Sarah Sherman are the Robinsons, doctors who are peddling mail-in stool testing. They are emphatic they will NOT play with excrement sent to them, it is suspicious. Owen Wilson is the director, he is concerned with the directness, and whether they will mess around the samples. So, this is out 10-to-1, ha. I agree with Owen, Sarah and Andrew have a fun and strange chemistry.
Aristotle Athari has a small part here. I would not have guessed he would be used the least tonight! But I love what I saw of Sarah and James, folks.
-Thank you to Siobhan Fallon Hogan! Once again: check out Rushed!
-And thank you to Gary Kroeger! His podcast, The Gary and Kenny Show, is excellent and features interviews with the likes of Robin Duke and Tim Kazurinsky.
-Want more content from me? Please see my interview with the GOAT Jim Belushi. This went viral over the summer, when others aggregated my scoop, SMH.
-Other changes this season: Liz Patrick was announced as the latest director of SNL, only the fifth in the show's history. I asked Gary and Siobhan what it was like working with previous director Dave Wilson. Kroeger says: "He wasn't the young man I expected, but kind of a jovial father figure. He had strong opinions about what was funny and what wasn't and where he was going to put the camera, but he was so affable, and when he laughed at something I'd done, I felt like I belonged on the team. I loved him." Fallon Hogan describes Wilson as "the salt of the earth."
-Nice callout to the recently departed Herb Schlosser, who played a key role in the creation of SNL, authoring a February 1975 memo that proposed a new variety show to replace weekend reruns of The Tonight Show. Did I miss something for Doctor No, Bill Clotworthy?