I think that season had some great highlights and was overall a decent year, but when I watched some of those 2016 pre-election episodes earlier this year, I felt like they were surprisingly choppy compared to what I had expected, other than the Tom Hanks episode, which was pretty good almost all the way through. The Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda episodes in particular (although as is usually the case with SNL there were still a few things in each I enjoyed). I suppose one big difference is this was when people like Mikey Day first joined the cast and his presence and some of his sketches could add some new energy, and you also had people like Kate, Cecily and Aidy who were at their peak. Now you have a lot of people who are clearly in the process of leaving, and you have people like Mikey who have mostly repeated their sketches for about 4-5 seasons now.
I think the new people have mostly been a shot in the arm for the show - Ego is a very natural and charismatic utility player, Chris is a smooth, likeable presence who excels in the pre-tapes and is strong support in sketches, Heidi is a great dramatic actress (even if her attempts at playing 'weird' don't work for me), Bowen has a lot of energy and fun (even if I don't really like his sketches as much as I wish I did), Chloe is one of the best impressionists they've had in years, and the glimpses we've seen of Punkie and Andrew also seem promising to me (I'm afraid Lauren will just end up being seen as Aidy 2.0). But we haven't seen them get enough of a chance due to the older cast members.
I agreed with you more about the cast in the premiere, but I think overall their work has improved quite a bit these past two episodes.
The election material is pretty weak, and I don't believe they get anything out of writing for Trump or Biden and just feel they have to because of ratings (I don't think the 2016 election material was much good either but I could at least say that others did). I think they have toned Biden's malevolence down heavily from when Woody Harrelson played the role, but now it just feels like a mush rather than a character. So it's hard to know when we are even meant to laugh or why we should care or why we are just watching a checklist.
Whoever wins, if they cut down the bloated cold opens and allowed for more material, then the variety alone would make the episodes breathe easier.
I may not be the best judge because, outside of the cold opens I kind of like the halting style and attempts at finding some sort of different direction and having a more serious tone the last few weeks - it feels like the show starting to finally realize they have to move on and trying to figure out how. But the last two weeks may be a blip and we may be back to "somebody has a funny name, let's make a face," this coming week, I don't know. I am trying not to get my hopes up about long-term changes until we finally get the cast exodus which we are now just getting hints of.