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After a long, uncertain layoff, NBC's Saturday Night Live returned last night with a old friend brought in to guide the fresh crop of faces coming in this season. Already there are fears that this will be one of the show's infamous down seasons. So, how did the premiere go? 

It's no secret that Saturday Night Live is in a transition year. The departure of Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader over the last two seasons -- with Seth Meyers exiting in February, too -- left a major hole for Lorne Michaels to fill over the summer, and new faces were brought in as part of the biggest casting change in over a decade. The spotlight was on the remaining cast members, especially Taran Killam, Cecily Strong and Kate MacKinnon, to help balance the show's obvious tumult.

If last night's cold open was any indication, those three names will be the show's guiding lights for much of SNL's 39th season. Jay Pharaoh's toothless Obama impression -- impressively accurate but not all that funny -- hosted an Obamacare press conference. SNL's first episode back is always a way to catch up on the news, with Obamacare, the new iPhone and the impending government shutdown all touched on here. Killam's Ted Cruz impression didn't kill right away but it was clearly brimming with promise. But McKinnon was the first sketch's highlight as an overworked, smoking ER doctor. "Obamacare or no Obamacare, people need to stop putting stuff up their butts," she says, earning the season's first big laugh.

Oh, some guy came out and talked about meth? Not sure what that was about. Seemed like a rogue audience member but the show just rolled with it. Live TV!

What better way to meet the new cast members than watching them shake their unmentionables in airtight gold hot pants. Tina Fey got to torture the new kids -- Beck Bennett, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noel Wells, and Brooks Wheelan -- because dancing behind the host is a right of passage in Studio 8H. 

Noel Wells got the best debut of any new cast member as Hannah Horvath in the excellent Girls parody that played right after the monologue. Vanessa Bayer shined as Shoshanna, too. (At first I was convinced it was the real Shosh, so, yeah.) But it was Fey who dominated the sketch as the new Albanian friend, Blerta. 

[An odd update: NBC has removed every Weekend Update video from Hulu.]

Cecily Strong's much-hyped tenure as Weekend Update host went off without a hitch. There was no pomp or circumstance before Strong and Seth Meyers dived into the week's headlines. She did take a moment to thank the many female Weekend Update anchors who came before her, setting up an lovely, inspiring pep talk from Tina Fey. A nice torch passing moment if there ever was one. 

The season's first episode was, on the whole, a little disappointing. It wasn't surprising that they chose to close with one of last year's most popular recurring sketches, the Swarovski Crystal girls. So many people love these sketches and, yeah, they were funny last year but this one didn't even feel original. It was almost an exact copy of the same sketch from last year's Timberlake episode. 

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