SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Margot Robbie" Episode 1705 -- Pictured: (l-r) Colin Jost, Michael Che, and Cecily Strong as Cathy Ann during Weekend Update on October 1, 2016 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “Margot Robbie” Episode 1705 — Pictured: (l-r) Colin Jost, Michael Che, and Cecily Strong as Cathy Ann during Weekend Update on October 1, 2016 — (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2016.

Love It

Season 42 starts off satisfying enough, but with only occasional moments of sustained hilarity. For the sketch of the night, I am going with Family Feud: Political Edition, on the strength of two of the best SNL impressions of all time. Darrell Hammond’s take on Bill Clinton as the ultimate hedonist will never get old, while Larry David’s Bernie Sanders takes the inanities of the Feud (he passes, because playing seems like a hassle) and SNL parodies of the Feud (the whole thing is just hello’s) to task.

Michael and Colin have weeks’ worth of election news and athletic protests to motivate them for an on-fire Weekend Update…Cecily Strong’s recurring Cathy Anne character benefits from her migration from sketches to Update, as she drops by to present her take as an illuminating but frequently incoherent (“predator of Obamacare”?) undecided voter.

Keep It

Presidential DebateSNL’s debate sketches have been essential viewing since at least 2000 (strategery vs. lockbox). This means that the writers and performers always bring their A-games to this quadrennial tradition, but also that they have to match an impossibly high reputation. Round One of the 2016 SNL debate cycle presents a couple of masters at work, while it does not quite have the hook that places it among the best of SNL’s political work. Hillary Clinton’s glee plays right into Kate McKinnon’s perpetually-on-the-edge-of-bursting portrayal, while Alec Baldwin actually manages to find a new key for Donald Trump. Simply put, this is a format designed to prevent both undisputed triumphs and abject failures.

Margot Robbie’s monologue almost suffers from a too-timely premise but has fun when it gets the whole cast involved…Action 9 News presents a disappointingly regressive view of love, but it has crack comic timing and a hearteningly open-minded ending…The Librarian has more shocks than scares but is bizarre enough to be fascinating…Melania Moments might just be a worthy successor to Deep Thoughts.

Leave It

It pains me a little to say this, but … the Mr. Robot parody is not very good. It is a promising angle, and on premise alone it is almost strong enough for me to call it a “Keep It.” It takes one of the most popular shows of the summer and crosses it with one of the biggest celebrity scandals, which just happened to be about the current SNL cast member with the most vibrant personality. There are a few lightly insane touches (a plethora of E’s replaced by 3’s in the on-screen text, Leslie having a photo shoot with “Amtrak Magazine”), but what it comes down to is: this is an ambitious idea that deserves to be explored in a lot more room than a quick-hit last sketch of the night.

There are those SNL fans who love Kenan Thompson’s daffy David Ortiz impression, and he always makes me chuckle here and there, but I think it’s time for him to retire alongside the real Big Papi…Despite a delightfully demented twist ending and a delectable double entendre, Scooby-Doo parody The Hunch Bunch hardly gets past a rather tepid one-joke premise…The New York Film Festival Women’s Roundtable features a reliably committed performance from Kate McKinnon, but it does not make a lick of sense.

A Note on the Newbies
This season premiere marks the debut of Mikey Day, Alex Moffat, and Melissa Villaseñor as featured players. Day is already appearing plenty of times in utility roles, and Moffat is paired up with him a handful of times. Villaseñor is on screen less than either of the guys, but she has the most high-profile moment with her handy Sarah Silverman impression on Family Feud. None of them are anything to write home about yet, but they all impress with their total lack of nerves.

Margot Robbie
On a scale of Steven Seagal to Alec Baldwin, Margot Robbie is a Jennifer Lawrence: perfectly talented but under-utilized. She is given significant roles in most sketches, but not ones that require her to do too much comedic heavy lifting. Still, she throws herself into the performance when it is required (especially as a sexy-gross librarian and the dangerously overzealous member of The Hunch Bunch), but she could use stronger material to make those moments stick.

The Weeknd
On a scale of Ashlee Simpson to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Weeknd at least matches himself from last season. He is an old pro at this point, with two featured assists (for Future and Ariana Grande) alongside his two lead performances. His rendition of “Starboy” has some star-bright stage design (but suffers from a few audio troubles), while busting out the new track “False Alarm” presents an intriguing path forward, with its pulsing rock backbeat and screamo attitude.

Letter Grades:
Presidential Debate – B
Margot Robbie’s Monologue – B-
Action 9 News – B
The Librarian – B-
Family Feud: Political Edition – B+
The Weeknd performs “Starboy” – B-

Weekend Update:
The Jokes – B+
Cathy Anne (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+
David Ortiz – C+

The Hunch Bunch – C-
Melania Moments – B
New York Film Festival Women’s Roundtable – C
The Weeknd performs “False Alarm” – B+
Mr. Robot – C