NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” kicked off its 47th season with host Owen Wilson flanked by a mostly familiar cast that lampooned topical issues like the R Kelly trial and COVID-19 crisis, but largely treated President Biden with kid gloves.
The show started with new featured player James Austin Johnson impersonating the president, telling the audience he had a “bad summer,” but “not Cuomo bad” – a reference to disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The political cold open also featured Pete Davidson as Cuomo promoting his new book “Whoops,” and Melissa Villasenor as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a skit that parodied Democrats’ inability to come together on a spending bill.
“Do you know what Italians like to do? Hug and kiss and run their fingers up each other’s backs,” Davidson’s Cuomo said, in a creepy effort to unite the caucus.
“I wore a dress that said tax the rich then spent all night partying with the rich,” Villasenor quipped.
First-time host Wilson embraced his slacker persona during the monologue, setting low expectations as he introduced his masked brothers Luke and Andrew in the audience.
“Everyone comes out here and says ‘it’s going to be a great show.’ Is it? I dunno,” Wilson cracked.
The 52-year-old actor played a doctor that pulled female hosts off a morning talk show for positive COVID-19 tests in a send-up of “The View,” impersonated Jeff Bezos in a parody of the billionaire space race, and spoofed football announcer Troy Aikman.
The actor also caricatured his voice-over work in “Cars 3” by selling out to read for a racy sequel of the children’s movie for a huge paycheck.
A sketch that lampooned confusion about COVID-19 school safety issues also touched on critical race theory and the push to rename Confederate named schools.
“The name of Robert E Lee Middle School is being changed to Robert E Lee Was Bad Middle School,” Ego Nwodim deadpanned at a school board meeting.
Davidson dropped into the skit as a confused Dog The Bounty Hunter who is striking out on his hunt for Gabby Petito’s missing boyfriend Brian Laundrie.
“I got no leads on this guy. Either he’s good or I’m bad,” Davidson joked.
“Weekend Update” started off with the anchors noting the absence of Donald Trump-related headlines, but Michael Che and Colin Jost notably didn’t crack even one joke about President Biden.
Nwodim joined the anchors to riff on the different media coverage that missing white woman and black women receive, joking that her poster said “Wanted,” not “Missing.”
In a touching tribute, Che and Jost singed off rolling a clip of former “Update” anchor Norm McDonald, who unexpectedly died last month at the age of 61.
Longtime cast member Kenan Thompson drew laughs by playing a lounge singer who sang R Kelly’s hit “I Believe I Can Fly” at a woman’s memorial service, to the disgust of the mourners.
Second-time musical guest Kacey Musgraves delivered performances of her songs “Justified” and “Camera Roll” to big ovations.
Johnson made an immediate case that he might be up for the challenge of trying to fill the massive void left by departing impressionist Beck Bennett with his Biden impression and an impersonation of broadcaster Joe Buck.
Aristotle Athari and Sarah Sherman, the other new featured players this season, had less time on stage.
Kim Kardashian West is set to host next week’s episode with musical guest Halsey.