September 17th, 2012
10:35 AM ET
Expectations were high for the 38th season premiere of "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, but host Seth MacFarlane did his best to meet them.
With "SNL's" retooling, there was a lot riding on the season opener, which had Frank Ocean as the musical guest. In addition to three new cast members, this is a political season, and Jay Pharoah now does the impression of President Obama instead of Fred Armisen.
We didn't have to wait long to see how well Pharoah would do, as Saturday's premiere began with Armisen passing the torch.
Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker charged that Pharoah, while nailing Obama's voice and speaking habits, needs to work harder to develop a "coherent take" on the president.
"If the show can’t do better than increase the amount of gray hair the President has acquired over the past four years, it needs to get out of the political satire business," Tucker, who was also unimpressed by Jason Sudeikis' Mitt Romney and Taran Killam's Paul Ryan, said. "The notion that Romney is a fool is foolishly short-sighted. Time for the show’s political-sketch writers who re-sharpen their pencils."
The L.A. Times, meanwhile, was more forgiving, allowing that Pharoah is understandably still tweaking his character. "Pharoah’s Obama may need a bit of fine-tuning and subtlety, but he brought more humor and satire to the impression (especially in terms of the president’s eyes, grin and pauses), whereas Armisen tended to play Obama fairly straight."
The Huffington Post's Mike Ryan agreed that Pharaoh's Obama is a marked improvement, calling the cold open one of the best skits of the night, along with Bill Hader's impression of Clint Eastwood and his empty chair. "[I]t's a tad dated, but Hader's Eastwood is just too good for this not to happen." MacFarlane, meanwhile, was "fairly excellent," HuffPo complimented.
The highlight was MacFarlane's impersonation of Olympic swimming champ Ryan Lochte: "He nailed Lochte's signature brand of goofy, aloof ditiziness," said Time, while TVOvermind observed, "If no other sketch had made me laugh the whole night, Seth MacFarlane hosting would have been worth it just for this alone."
What'd you think of "SNL's" season opener?
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