Pete Davidson, Taylor Swift, and Travis Kelce Welcome Us Back to ‘SNL’

Saturday Night Live returned for its 49th season premiere after a week when it felt like the world was in danger of sliding into ruin. Death tolls rising; social media a nauseating buffet of banal and horrific. The prospect of a cold open about the carnivalesque search for a new Speaker of the House or James Austin Johnson valiantly giving a go at Trump railing against windmills and his new best friend Fudgy the Whale made the heart sag.

Instead, the night began with a close-up of Pete Davidson, a man in his 20s who lost his firefighter father on 9/11 when he was a child. He was not there to explain evil, or examine the context that breeds it, but simply hold space for its cost. Davidson then described how his mother, desperate to pull her son out of his hole of grief, confused Eddie Murphy’s Delirious album for a Disneyesque romp. She would’ve been horrified by the firehose of Murphy’s jokes if not for the relief of Davidson laughing like mad in the backseat of their car. Sometimes, comedy is the only salve. “So, I’m going to try to be funny,” said Davidson, in a closing reminiscent of Lorne Michaels asking Rudy Giuliani on September 29, 2001, for permission to be funny. “And remember, I said try.”

It was Davidson’s best moment of the episode (which sounds like shade, and isn’t meant to diminish the loveliness of his entrance). I couldn’t decide if his formal opening monologue felt like a nervous comedian who grew up on Bill Burr and wasn’t yet in charge of his set, or that of a journeyman who’d been out on the road for too long. He riffed on the destabilizing experience of watching the incest scenes on Game of Thrones with his sister (“Am I about to bang this chick, what’s going on?”). He took us down memory lane when the high school football coach used to call him a pussy, and he took Staten Island girls for pizza after having sex in his car. It’s like he’s finding his material from the caricatured version of his tabloid self rather than a more compelling truth.

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