Tina Fey kicked off the 39th season of “Saturday Night Live,” with help from musical guests Arcade Fire, six new castmembers and “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul, who made so many appearances that it seemed like he might be auditioning to be the seventh.
Paul showed up as Jesse Pinkman in the show’s cold open — where Jay Pharoah’s Barack Obama attempted to explain the benefits of the Affordable Care Act — and dropped by “Weekend Update” later in the show, and made a cameo in an ad for “eMeth” electronic cigarettes.
Fey used her opening monologue to initiate (and humiliate) the six new featured “SNL” players, ordering them to strip down to gold lamé hotpants for a musical number. She also scored in a number of sketches, including a spot-on send up of HBO’s “Girls” where she played a new addition to the cast, an Albanian immigrant named Blerta, a biting bit about boarding airplanes and a delightfully dark used-car commercial from the 1920s.
Arcade Fire went above and beyond, showing up in a sketch where Fey attempted to tell the difference between them and the show’s new castmembers (we also learned that AF frontman Win Butler does a pretty good Robert DeNiro impression), then performing a pair of songs from next month’s Reflektor album for the first time on television.
The title track was up first, and though it was paired down from its seven-minute running time, it still packed plenty of punch, thanks to the addition of percussionists and a horn section. Arcade Fire wore black, Butler danced across the stage — and ran his vocals through an onstage effects machine — and his wife, Regine Chassagne struck art poses throughout, and even performed inside a mirrored box for a minute. The sound wasn’t always great (a common “SNL” problem) though the song really got cooking by the final third.
The second song, called “Afterlife” saw the band in matching whites, and leaned heavily on dreamy, New Order synth lines. Wearing the same bandit face paint he sported in the “Reflektor” video, Butler keened “Can we just work it out? Scream and shout?” and the track stormed, surged, and seemed to suggest it would fit perfectly alongside their earlier, arena-sized anthems.
Oh, and then, immediately after “SNL,” they stormed out of the studio and launched their very own late night special/concert, called “Here Comes the Night Time.” Like we said, they went above and beyond.
All in all, it was a pretty solid start to the season. And it’s worth noting: There was only one twerking joke in the whole show — made by Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle during “Weekend Update” — though we suspect that will change next week, when Miley Cyrus pulls double duty as host and performer.