Miles Teller soars but can't save SNL from autopilot

Photo:  NBC
Photo: NBC

SNL returned for its 48th season after the mass exodus of eight former cast members, the addition of four new players, and a host from this summer’s biggest blockbuster—no, not Tom Cruise, but rather first-timer Miles Teller. The cold open addressed this as Teller, playing Peyton Manning, provided commentary to an unfolding secondary cold open sketch involving Trump at his resort. Perhaps this meta-approach seemed clever on paper, but in practice one might ponder: Instead of writing a sketch about why a sketch isn’t funny, why didn’t the writers use this fresh start to just come up with something actually funny, without the unnecessary quotations? This season opener revealed that, even with a committed and serviceable host, the show’s lackluster writing has veteran performers going through the motions and stunts the fresh new players from adding their own comedic voices. Here’s a breakdown of what happened.

Best sketch of the night

BeReal - SNL

“Let’s BeReal:” contemporary SNL continues to thrive with non-live comedy. This sketch manages to explain the time-sensitive new social media phenomenon “Be Real,” by setting it against a bank robbery. The absurd situation also challenges the ethos of the platform suggesting that all it has done is made us instantly performative as we stage our “BeReal” posts.

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Most redundant sketch

Rooftop Bar - SNL

“Rooftop Bar,” the second segment of the night that focused on men’s inability to respectively or coherently communicate with women, was somehow more of a failure than the first. Combined with “Send Something Normal,” this sketch reveals the programs biggest problem: That even when making fun of contemporary masculinity, it is still stagnantly rooted in that point of view (see the Trombone Champ joke in “Weekend Update”).

Sponsored sketch of the night

Charmin Bears - SNL

The Charmin Bears sketch was the first baffling addition to the episode, followed by the McDonald’s segment and Caribbean Queens. It was pointless, almost exclusively relying on fecal humor and played-out family dynamics, and the climax appeared to just be Teller and Bowen Yang dancing in bear costumes. Its placement only made sense when an actual commercial for Charmin toilet paper followed. But why can’t SNL master the comedic product placement like 30 Rock did almost a decade ago with these Snapple and Verizon gags?

Better late than never sketch

Nicole Kidman AMC Ad - SNL

For more than a year, it has remained a mystery why SNL hadn’t spoofed the now iconic Nicole Kidman AMC advertisement. Chloe Fineman continues to deliver on celebrity impersonations, combining Kidman’s gravitas with an exaggerated Australian accent. While it would have been funny for the sketch to focus on the less-desirable aspects of the multiplex (like people texting, sticky floors, or someone sitting next to you when there are an abundant amount of open seats), channeling the collective movie-going experience into a mystical conjuring that has Kidman take flight in some sort of transcendent ritual was an unexpected twist.

MVP of the night

Weekend Update: Mitch McConnell and Herschel Walker on 2022 Midterms - SNL

Kenan Thompson, after 20 seasons, remains one of the highlights of the program. Hopefully, he is getting paid more than the other cast members as he seems to appear in nearly every sketch. Even in bad ones like “Charmin Bears” and “Send Something Normal,” he manages to find some level of humor. Well done.

Stray observations

  • Where was Cecily Strong?

  • Teller, as a first-time host, seemed game for anything. It’s a shame that the writing was so underwhelming.

  • You could also really tell that Teller loves the legacy of SNL, as seen in the video of his family reenacting classic sketches.

  • Where was Cecily Strong???

  • SNL needs to stop chasing viral moments. Corn Kid and the Adam Levine scandal have already been played out via marketing and social-media platforms.

  • Bowen Yang’s spotted lanternfly was enjoyable and seemed like it should have fully embraced the trashy ’90s-talk-show vibe as an independent sketch.

  • No, seriously, where was Cecily Strong?????????????????

  • Another problem with the show is how it deals with the immediacy of social media. A lot of the jokes it made have already played out on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. It would be better if SNL stopped trying to be so timely.

  • Oh, I just discovered that apparently Cecily Strong, whose name was not in the credits this week and was sorely missed, is on leave currently for a play, but hopefully she’ll be back ASAP.

  • Oh, I also really love the new font for SNL (see the top).

  • And, just to close and be utterly shameless: I actually directed my own shot-for-shot remake of the Nicole Kidman AMC ad with a friend and drag queen.