Stars: Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Paul Brittain, Abby Elliott, Bill Hader, Taran Killam, Seth Meyers, Bobby Moynihan, Nasim Pedrad, Jay Pharoah, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Kenan Thompson, Kristen Wiig
Network: NBC, airs Saturday nights
Original Telecast: September 25, 2011

You can’t really judge a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE season by its premiere episode, but you do expect a lot more when Alec Baldwin is hosting for his record-breaking 16th time (exceeding the tie he recently held with Steve Martin).

As the 37th season of the venerable late night comedy series kicked off, we were reminded once again that it’s a political season as the show’s cold opening focused on the GOP debates.

There were some funny jokes here, and some dead-on impersonations, but the sketch went nowhere. Sad.

The opening monologue naturally featured Steve Martin returning to give Baldwin a hard time for shattering his record. It was a somewhat funny bit, but kind of wasted the opportunity of having him there (and Seth Rogen  also made a useless cameo appearance as well).

The show didn’t improve much from here. An unfunny ALL MY CHILDREN sketch bombed; another lame attempt at doing something with a morning news program; a game show “Who’s On Top” (where contestants guest which two male heterosexual celebrities would be on top if they were to have sex) was amusing, but the joke got old fast; fake audition tapes from the 1986 movie TOP GUN weren’t as funny as similar sketches in the past; and a sketch involving Alec Baldwin and a dinner guest trying to deal with his annoying daughter also fell flat.

The only bright spot, as always was WEEKEND UPDATE with Seth Meyers, though even that ran on a little too long.

As far as cast changes are concerned, there was no shake-ups or new additions. The unit was intact (which is rare). There is definitely promise in the returning featured players as well. Taran Killan proved last year how funny he could be, and he got ample screen time this episode.

Paul Brittain also seems like he has potential. He has moments, but he hasn’t broken out yet like Killan has. Sadly Jay Pharoah, who has Eddie Murphy type potential wasn’t even used this week and still hasn’t been given the material to support his ability to do dead-on impersonations. The kid is funny, but if he doesn’t breakout this year, his SNL run will likely be over.

Even with the subpar material, Baldwin, as always, elevates everything, even when it’s bad. He was tailor made for this show, which is why he deserves the honor of the host who’s hosted the most. Still, it would have been nice to have material worthy of him stockpiled for this honor, but, like most things with SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, it’s a hit and miss affair. You really never know what you’re going to get week to week.

It’s a political year for the show, so it will likely rebound quickly, but I always find it strange that with three months in between the last original episode, that writers haven’t prepared better for their return. The first episode of every season should be non-stop hilarity, instead, the 37th Season proved to be an absolute bust. Hopefully they’ll do better when Baldwin hosts for a 17th time.

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