Season 48 is a new era for Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live is back with a new logo, new opening credits, and four new cast members. The season forty-eight premiere aired on October 1, with host Miles Teller (Top Gun: Maverick, Whiplash, The Spectacular Now) and musical guest Kendrick Lamar.

SNL has always made headlines and been a popular topic of online discourse–especially in relation to how unfunny it’s gotten over the years. “Nothing will top ‘More Cowbell!’” shout grown adults in the YouTube comment sections under sketches.

But recently, SNL has drawn even more discussion after news broke last spring of the departure of four major cast members–veterans Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, and Pete Davidson. Many vowed the show would never be the same without them, especially McKinnon and Bryant, who each spent a decade on the show. When the new season premiered, viewers noticed four more absences–Melissa Villaseñor, Chris Redd, Alex Moffat, and Aristotle Athari.

To many, this may seem to put the cast at a great disadvantage; they’ve lost their star players. What will they do now?

Arguably, the loss of these seasoned performers was needed. The cast had grown to the largest it had ever been at twenty-one people, to the point where some cast members only appeared in one sketch the entire night. Season forty-eight is presenting the younger cast members a chance to shine–a chance to prove that something can top “More Cowbell.”

In the cold open, during which the host is a main feature (a rarity by SNL standards), the cast pokes fun at itself in a self-aware sketch. They know they’ve lost some leading players, they know they now have to work to gain our trust and be able to make us laugh. To me, this was one of the smartest ways they could have opened the season. By embracing their current state, they almost force you not to get your hopes up; that way, they can over-impress when they knock a sketch out of the park.

The episode started with the game show “Send Something Normal,” in which a group of male celebrities with troublesome pasts–and cast member Bowen Yang as himself–are presented with a seemingly simple task: respond to a woman’s Instagram DM with something normal. Game show sketches are normally well-received by audiences, and this one felt no different. The pop culture references and ridiculous DM responses worked together to make a great starting player for the episode.

My bias will show especially here, but it would be a sin not to talk about the “BeReal” sketch, which has one of those twists that is just so stupid it becomes outrageously funny (e.g., “Farewell, Mr. Bunting”). BeReal, a current cultural phenomenon of an app used primarily by GenZ, asks its users to “be real” once a day by posting exactly what they’re doing when the app sends out a notification. This sketch was clearly targeted at younger audiences, and I’ve already seen it reposted on TikTok a few times with overwhelmingly positive reactions from young people. In it, host Teller and Mikey Day play bank robbers whose plan is thrown off when their hostages announce that “it’s time to BeReal,” sparking one robber’s interest in knowing what they mean.

Chloe Fineman as Nicole Kidman in a cult-like rendition of AMC’s pre-movie advertisement it shows in its theaters was a crowd favorite as well, based on the in-studio audience and how well it’s doing on the show’s YouTube.

Weekend Update was a shining star, which it has seemed to be for as long as the show has been on air. Michael Che and Colin Jost, though they’ve been around for a while now, haven’t yet reached a point where anyone seems to be hoping they’ll be replaced. In a move reminiscent of Pete Davidson’s first season, new cast member Michael Longfellow appeared as himself at the Update desk as well. He immediately seemed to capture the hearts of viewers, and his experience with stand-up is evident. Update as yourself week one is an impressive feat, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does this season.      

Just as with every episode of SNL, the premiere had a few clear flops. The show’s sketches seem to vary in quality based on where they’ve been placed in the episode; the strongest go first, with a possible fluke; a peak during Weekend Update; and then a slow tank into almost painfully bad. The last two sketches of the night weren’t particularly memorable, but that’s nothing new. In “Caribbean Queens,” Heidi Garner and Ego Nwodim play two vacationers who have started a talk show after overstaying their welcome on an island, and it dissolves into something far more uncomfortable than funny. “Grimace,” on the other hand, is just outright weird, a McDonald’s commercial where old mascots reunite and Grimace is, well, 300 pounds lighter and totally ripped.

That said, I’d be impressed if anyone could find an episode of this show where every joke lands and every sketch is a success. Comedy is subjective, and some things seem funnier in theory than they do on national television while dressed as shredded Grimace.

As we move forward in the season, what cast members should you keep an eye on? Bowen Yang, as always, is delightful in everything he appears in, including a spotted lantern fly bit on Update. Andrew Dismukes, who is now an official cast member in his third season, has become another crowd-favorite for his slight awkwardness but incredible delivery. Sarah Sherman is likely the biggest risk SNL took in hiring last season–her comedy specialty is body-horror–but she proved to be worth it after nailing it on Weekend Update multiple times. James Austin Johnson, the new Donald Trump, has possibly taken Kate McKinnon’s role as the “every-man” of impersonating politicians. SNL is, finally, putting its younger cast at its center, ushering in a new era of the show.                                                

Last Saturday, that era felt alive in the air. For all the people they’ve lost, the younger cast members seem to be doing really well on their own. Older fans of the show might not get every sketch (I had to explain BeReal to my dad before showing him the episode), but maybe that’s what was needed. While sometimes cringy in its attempts at cultural relevancy, SNL’s own self-awareness makes it less hard to watch when something does fail.

The show, at last, is utilizing its younger, newer cast members, allowing them to cater to the next generation who they hope to make fans of the show. The season is off to a relatively good start—and maybe it makes me naive, but I’m hopeful about the direction this cast is headed in. 

You can watch SNL Saturday nights at 11:30 pm EST, or the next day on Peacock.