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'SNL' season premiere dominated by political humor

September 16, 2012|By Claire Zulkey

The episode’s cold open was arguably the most successful of the election-themed sketches, especially as it seemed to be a benchmark for election-season humor. Cast member Fred Armisen handed his prosthetic ears over to Jay Pharoah when it comes to impersonating Barack Obama. Pharaoh’s Obama may need a bit of fine-tuning and subtlety, but he brought more humor and satire to the impression (especially in terms of the president’s eyes, grin and pauses), whereas Armisen tended to play Obama fairly straight. In the open, the president acknowledged that he let America down, but expressed confidence in his ability to win the election, thanks to his secret weapon: Mitt Romney. Jason Sudeikis has found wonderful ways to make the strait-laced Romney endearingly awkward, including last night's rousing rendition of “Old MacDonald” (“Sorry, I didn’t know all the animal noises,” he apologized to his audience) and his disastrous attempt to high-five a double-amputee.

Paul Ryan also made an appearance via Taran Killam, although that’s an impression that will need to be tinkered with, partly because America doesn’t know Ryan well enough to recognize his idiosyncrasies and partly because “SNL”’s hair and makeup team hasn’t quite yet figured out how to make Killam resemble the congressman (the sketch relied upon a quick joke of Ryan lying about how many sit-ups he can do).

Otherwise, the episode was noteworthy for Frank Ocean’s soulful singing (with John Mayer dropping by for some guitar solo work) as well as the debuts of the show’s new cast members. Cecily Strong appeared as outspoken Latin teenager Mimi Morales during "Weekend Update," Aidy Bryant showed up briefly in a sketch that warmed up the leftover-of-a-premise of people who speak in funny accents for no particular reason, and Tim Robinson (whom, full disclaimer, has been an occasional colleague of my husband’s) made several appearances, including a short-but-sweet episode capper about an Amish website.

Overall, the episode, in Lochte terms, merited about 3½ swims. Next week, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who wowed in 2009 with his singing and dancing monologue, returns as host with musical guest Mumford & Sons.


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