The 44th season of Saturday Night Live kicked off last weekend. Hosted by Star Wars and Girls actor Adam Driver and overshadowed by the antics of musical guest Kanye West, it was a really solid season premiere. The SNL premiere isn’t always a good litmus test of the season to come. New writers and cast members are finding their footing so the show often needs a week or two to get in its groove, but the season 44 premiere was a very solid outing opener.
Driver acquitted himself well, especially in the post Weekend Update “Career Day” skit which saw him in heavy make-up playing an elderly and shout-happy oil baron explaining his job to his son’s class. However, the highlight of the night was Matt Damon’s tour-de-force performance in his cameo of the show’s impressive 13 minute cold open.
The current makeup of the cast is talented if a bit anonymous. Kate McKinnon, with her versatility and character skills ever present, is still the star in what may be her final season on the show, while Kenan Thompson, who had an unfortunately light show but is now entering his record 16th season, remains the glue that holds the show together. Going forward these two can be counted on as a constant presence. Cecily Strong, whose “Coffee Shop” skit was one of the better ones of the premiere, is another heavily relied upon cast member, though her characters can be very hit or miss. The frequently used, versatile featured players of the past two seasons, Alex Moffat and Mikey Day, have both been promoted to the main cast and will likely be relied upon more, with good reason. Only one new cast member, Ego Nwodim, joins the cast, though the season premiere didn’t see her doing much.
However, as good as the cast or the sketches are, SNL undoubtedly make headlines this year for its political comedy, especially its handling of President Donald Trump, still played by SNL’s most frequent host, Alec Baldwin. While Baldwin’s Trump impression lacks the edge and excitement it had in 2016, it’s still capable of generating laughs when given the right material and situations. Often those situations involve shifting focus from Trump and letting Trump be a supporting feature in a sketch, like the show did so well last year with Ben Stiller’s cameos as Michael Cohen. The show has also been able to find political laughs about Trump without showing Trump himself, as Moffat and Days impressions of Eric and Don Jr. have become one of the most reliably funny recurring characters on the show. Overall, the Driver-hosted premiere was a solid way to kickoff an SNL season that has a lot of eyes on it.