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‘SNL’ opens 48th season with a meta comment about its current condition

Host Miles Teller during his "Saturday Night Live" monologue on the show's 48th season premiere Saturday. Kendrick Lamar was the musical guest.Will Heath/NBC

“Saturday Night Live” is back to making fun of its audience. The cold-open sketch in the show’s 48th season premiere played to “SNL’s” strengths - political humor, making fun of the Manning brothers and commenting on its own demise.

Fans began to fear the fate of the Emmy-winning series after an exodus of eight cast members at the end of Season 47. Missing from this season's opening credits (noted: updated show font and design) are Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, Chris Redd, Kyle Mooney, Melissa Villaseñor, Alex Moffat and Aristotle Athari - with the loss of McKinnon being particularly lamented.

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"The way the series has survived is by that level of renewal. The price of success is that people go off and do other things," "SNL" creator/producer Lorne Michaels told the New York Times last month.

Instead of ignoring those concerns, "SNL" got weird with it. Peyton Manning (played by host Miles Teller) and his brother Eli Manning (Andrew Dismukes) narrated a "Manningcast" to make real-time comments on the premiere's open, hoping for a train wreck.

They find exactly what they're looking for in the latest Trump sketch. Trump, played again by James Austin Johnson, is waiting for Hurricane Ian to pass while a turnstile of characters visit him at Mar-a-Lago.

"The show's in a rebuilding year for sure," said Peyton.

"SNL" writers have apparently read all of the mean Twitter comments about the show's current state. Criticisms like "Oh good, Trump sketch. Way to mix it up," and "Where's the balance politically? They're making Trump-Columbus jokes, meanwhile Joe Biden's lost his damn marbles."

The failed fake Trump sketch is the formula of the previous "SNL" era, relying heavily on impersonations of Trumpian figures for its relevancy. With the exit of McKinnon, it's difficult to see how those roles will be filled. The sketch provided at least one immediate answer: There is no replacement. Instead, Heidi Gardner did an over-the-top vampiric impersonation of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) - a political figure no one, except the citizens of South Dakota, is thinking about. That led to a telling exchange between Teller's Peyton and Dismukes's Eli.

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"What about a fun impression like Anthony Fauci or Lindsey Graham or Rudy Giuliani?" asked Peyton.

"Those were all Kate McKinnon," replied Eli.

"Damn."

This season's spotlight is on "Fire Island" star and veteran cast member Bowen Yang. In the fake sketch, these nerves get the better of him. Yang gives a stunted and sweaty performance where he tries to make the bland catchphrase "it is what it is" marketable.

"SNL" then pulls in its famous friends to close out its first cold open of the season. Jon Hamm joins the Mannningcast as himself, while Shaun White visits the Trump sketch as the special master from the classified documents investigation. This deeper dive into meta-humor gives Hamm the opportunity to rib Teller, stating, "You know sometimes they need to bring in a real celebrity when the host isn't that famous."

The summer was packed with political scandals, devastating natural disasters and the continued war in Ukraine, which left the "Weekend Update" segment plenty to work with. Familiar faces Colin Jost and Michael Che begin by addressing the war in Ukraine, a topic that clouded the end of last season.

"In a speech after annexing segments of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin attacked the U.S. for satanism and denounced the many genders in fashion in the West," said co-host Jost, "It was a hateful, unhinged speech which has many Americans calling him 'electable.'"

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Jost went on to reference U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner's detention in Russia. "The U.S. embassy in Russia is urging all U.S. citizens to leave immediately. 'Oh cool, I'll try to do that,' " said Griner. (Griner, who was convicted of attempting to smuggle narcotics into Russia, has been sentenced to more than nine years in a Russian penal colony.)

Before turning to the political news the segment is known for, co-host Michael Che touched on Hurricane Ian and Florida’s increasingly strict laws about what can be taught in schools. “Hurricane Ian hit Florida this week and Gov. Ron DeSantis called it a ‘500 year flooding event,’ " said Che. “In fact, it’s such a historic tragedy that DeSantis won’t let them teach about it in Florida schools.”