SNL returns; Armisen as Obama?

Saturday Night Live answered the Obama question right away in the cold open, which tried to take on this week’s CNN/Univision Democratic debate. Fred Armisen played Barack Obama. So??? Armisen has similar facial features, which helped his cause. Already has that faraway look in the eyes down. Skin tone? Too light. Voice? Eh. Which makes for an early verdict of, to use the TV political parlance, too close to call. Of course, Armisen isn’t half-African, but that didn’t stop him from impersonating Prince for years on the show. He won the gig over three outside comedic candidates, all of them African-American. That alone should prompt some renewed debate about SNL’s casting diversity. Again. Hence the renewed. For Lorne Michaels, though, it could’ve just as easily been the easy and economic decision to pick an Obama from within the cast, at least for now. He’s shown with President George W. Bush that he’s OK with recasting the role when it suits the show, so why rush into hiring a new SNL’er, right? The larger problem, anyhow, is that SNL’s political jokes continue to fall short of the funny finish line. They still go for the obvious joke. In this case, the media loves Obama. By the time Armisen attempted a "yes we can" joke, the bit had stretched too long. I clocked it. The entire cold open lasted almost nine minutes. 9! Why so long? Especially for a first show back from the strike? And there’s a cameo by a lip-synching Obama Girl?

Even the NBC-approved video link cuts the opening sketch to 2:50.

Kristen Wiig, as CNN’s Campbell Brown, gets to say "Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!" and then the intros, now with "featured player" Casey Wilson. First new cast member in three years.

Tina Fey’s monologue, going so-so until Steve Martin jumps onstage to help show Fey how to move from a writer to a performer. Actually, Fey did get in a good joke about what the WGA won from the strike. But Martin’s bit with Fey showed how and why Fey has won the latest acting awards. By the way, the monologue, another four minutes. That, plus the cold open and the credits, and already the thought creeps in, are they trying to stretch everything in the first week back?

A fake ad follows, traditionally, and this is for Annuale, a pill that allows women to have only one period a year. The joke’s in the small print. And the annual rage. LOL?

A Rock of Love spoof, with Jason Sudeikis getting the Bret Michaels part, choosing from Wiig, Fey, Wilson and Amy Poehler. Wilson gets to, or has to, French kiss Sudeikis. Welcome to SNL! It’s all fairly funny, but isn’t this VH1 show in its second season?

The first SNL Digital Short post-strike, about making movies acceptable for old people, not winning an Emmy.

Kenan Thompson? He shows up in a game-show, "What’s That Bitch Talking About?" with contestants Bill Hader and Tina Fey.

Former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee makes a planned appearance during Weekend Update, and it’s to explain why he’s still in the race, and it’s all well and good. "I’m not a math guy. I’m more of a miracle guy." Then an obvious won’t overstay his welcome joke. Fey also reappears on the Update desk for "Womens News," which makes one wonder (and by one, I mean some viewers not named me) whether her appeal for Hillary Clinton was real or just part of the act.

Hey, it’s Celebrity Apprentice, and did you know Darrell Hammond is still on SNL? Now you do. Hammond gets to do Trump, while they trot out several celebrity impressions of folks who aren’t on the show but would be funny if they were, along with Armisen as Gene Simmons on the newly released sex tape. Poehler as the former Six Flags dancing spokesman was a particular hoot.

Sudeikis got to take over a wedding reception sketch as that guy who gives that speech.

Wiig stars in a video for Virgania Horsen’s Hot Air Balloon Rides that audiences at Comix saw previously during an SNL Strike Benefit show.

A Food Network spoof has Hader channelling Daniel Day-Lewis looking for the perfect milkshake. Get it? "I drink your milkshake!" Somehow it also gets in a No Country reference. Chalk this up to catching up for lost time, plus the Oscars are on Sunday?

A "Lady Business" scene that’s supposed to be from the makers of Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia? OK.

Somehow, I get the sense that they know they’re writing four weeks of new shows and don’t want to put it all out on the first week. Or they just needed to shake off some rust. I hope that’s what happened here.

NOTE: No Maya Rudolph. She’s no longer under contract. More videos from last night’s SNL after the jump.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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