Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' - Miley Cyrus
The pop sensation/lightning rod returns to host the show.
Follow HitFix: Follow @hitfix
Miley Cyrus is the host and musical guest for tonight’s episode of “Saturday Night Live”. And I’m here with a bold prediction: This will be terrible…unless it’s incredible…unless it’s pretty much as tepid as most episodes. Of this, we can be sure!
Look, it’s fun to talk about Cyrus’ new public persona, and her choice of outfits and/or dance moves, but all that is as unimportant as what any other star brings to the table. When she hosted two years ago, she did just fine: She was game for all sorts of sketches, excelled in a few, and was let down by the writing in others. Sound familiar? It should, since that describes 90% of the hosts that the show gets. That Cyrus is arriving at a point in which there’s never been more ink (virtual and real) spilled about her mental state works in the favor of “Saturday Night Live” as a driver of headlines. But it’s not inconceivable that she’ll be a perfectly fine host who may lick a sledgehammer when it’s time to sing but play by the company rules when the comedy light is on.
In short: it’s a big ratings grab for “SNL,” but one with a celebrity we know can host. (It's not like we've got Michael Phelps here. Nice guy and all, but comedic doom.) Like every week, it falls down to the writing: Has the new staff found interesting things in the second week for its plethora of new talent while simultaneously keeping the old guard happy? That’s the biggest in-show storyline this Fall, and it’s got nothing to do with twerking bears. Will there be a sketch involving some parody of said bears and their preferred method of booty-shaking? Most likely. If the show can acknowledge Cyrus’ current pop culture status and move on, we have a chance (not a guarantee) of a good show. If twerking and tongue-wagging make it into every sketch…well, let’s not even think about that option.
As always, I’ll be liveblogging the show starting at 11:30 pm EST. As always, I’ll grade every segment. As always, most of you will want to take a wrecking ball to my house should those grades differ from your own. (See? I know a Miley song! Where’s my badge?) See you then!
Update: Looks like the Notre Dame/Arizona State football game is pushing things back, so we'll start when the show does.
Update 2: Apparently it will start at 11:57 pm EST, according to the show's official Twitter feed.
Twerking Apocalypse: Well, might as well get this out of the way. “Old” Miley confronts “New” Miley before her 2013 Video Music Awards. Taran Killam, newly Anointed Default Guy in “SNL,” smarms his way through the sketch as Robin Thicke, but he’s less funny than Bobby Monyihan as a dancing bear. Jay Pharoah gets in an appearance as Will Smith, and nails it. (Always nice to see “SNL” remember he can do more than Obama.) It’s not so much a sketch as a parade of characters and impressions, especially since the essential premise never gets fleshed out. So it's pretty much a misfire. Still, if this puts twerking in the rearview mirror for the night, then the sketch did The Lord’s work. [Grade: C]
Monologue: Oh good, more jokes about twerking and pictures of the VMAs. And then mention of Hannah Montana’s death, Monyihan naked on a giant wrecking ball, and…wait, what? That’s it? I can’t even grade that. Way too short, which means the show is either jam-packed or the producers were nervous about her only time onstage alone without her band. No clue. So odd. She seemed fine. Why cut that so short? [Grade: N/A]
Fifty Shades Of Grey Screen Tests: I have a soft spot for “just trot out a ton of impressions and watch the cast one-up each other”. It’s also great to see random impressions that don’t make it into sketches, such as Killam’s Christoph Waltz. It also gives newbies like Noel Wells a chance to show off some of her repertoire. (Her Zooey Deschanel, which is better than her Emma Stone here, is probably going to be seen shortly.) On the other hand, a few things were off: Why didn’t Aidy Bryant’s Rebel Wilson get a line? Are we actually OK with Nasim Pedrad playing Aziz Ansari? Pharaoh’s Shaquille O’Neill made me laugh out loud. But these types of rapid-fire impressions highlight just how limited the scope of whom “SNL” can impersonate really is. [Grade: B]
Girlfriends: It’s great to see Cecily Strong still in sketches, even with her new role on the “Update” desk. Wonder if that will continue if/when Seth Meyers leaves. Cyrus plays “Lil Tini,” the newest interloper to the Morgan/Kyra relationship. This is still a Bryant showcase, as she’s able to layer in just the right amount of fake bravado and real terror each time her friendship with Kyra is threatened. AND OH THERE’S TWERKING GREAT ALSO KILL ME. I’d rather hear Morgan’s jam about going to the grocery store with her mom. Cyrus doesn’t have much to do here, but that’s more on the writing than her performance. This sketch is too long by two minutes, and Strong's character now functions like a "Before" from her "Not Porn Stars Anymore" sketch. But still, when we get lines like, “I like a guy who’s in love with my confidence, and is gentleman enough to treat me to a hearty steak salad,” it’s almost worth it. [Grade: B]
We Did Stop: John Boehner and Michele Bachman (Killam, Cryus) do a rewrite of Cyrus’ “We Won’t Stop”. Man, “SNL” is just tripling down on twerking. The basic premise: “It’s OK to show Cyrus do her normal act, but as a Congressman! Also, Killam in tight clothing is just funny by itself!” If the point is to reinforce the stereotypes people have about tonight’s host, the show is doing a great job so far. It’s weird that that seems to be the tactic everyone’s employing, but it’s sadly not unexpected. Other than Pharoah delivering Obama’s terrified look, this was a surface-level gag that stopped being funny the second the concept revealed itself. [Grade: C-]
Piers Morgan Live: Pedrad gets actual live screen time! It’s still possible! She trots out her normally funny Arianna Huffington impression to discuss the recent cancellation of two Hillary Clinton biographies. Luckily, some are still in the works to fill the vacuum. She introduces one that FOX News has one in the works, featuring Beck Bennett as former President Bill Clinton and Vanessa Bayer playing a very ruthless Hillary. We also get “Running Rodham,” a “Breaking Bad” parody worth it if for nothing else than the hashtag at the bottom of the screen. After that, we get name drops for TNT's miniseries “Clinton And Bash”, ABC Family’s “Naughty Little Clintons,” and TLC’s “Say Yes To The Pantsuit”. The MTV documentary features Cyrus-as-Clinton opening up her jacket to reveal a “2016” bra, because OF COURSE IT DID. This was basically a series of documentary titles that the writers came up with and then built a sketch around. Pedrad’s Huffington lost 90% of her charm because she wasn’t flirting with Meyers during her usual speechifying. She was just an expositional device. It could have been anyone opposite Morgan. It didn’t need to be Huffington. [Grade: C]
Cyrus takes the stage to perform “Wrecking Ball”. Can I say this is a perfectly good pop song and be allowed to live? The video for this trying way too hard, and it hides the fact that if anyone but her sang this song, it would still be a huge hit. And since you’re already racing to the comments, I’ll just finish this paragraph by saying the show is using her so lazily tonight that if I were her, I’d never come back. I don’t see what the upside is. [Grade: B+]
Weekend Update: Week 2 of the Meyers/Strong Experiment! They launch “Winners/Losers: Government Shutdown”. You can hear the crickets. But having two anchors really helps sell the rhythm of this back-and-forth premise. (The Nicholas Cage joke was on Twitter this week, but whatever. Doubt they stole it, but it's always interesting to see how even a weekly show can be stale in terms of newscycles or comedy material.) Afterwords, Pat Lynhart (Kate McKinnon), a mother from Connecticut, reviews “Grand Theft Auto V”…and she loves it! “This week I had sex with 3,000 prostitutes…I am invincible...The Pat you know is dead!” This is the type of role Kristen Wiig used to do in her sleep, but McKinnon bring her own energy and mannerisms to the proceedings. Shannon Sharpe (Pharaoh, all over the place tonight) then arrives to talk about the football season thus far. Thanks to HD, I can see the drool on Pharoah’s chin. TECHNOLOGY! I can’t remember if he’s busted out Sharpe before, but the live crowd is eating it up. Finally, we get the triumphant return of Jacob, Bar Mitzvah Boy! This is one of Bayer’s best characters, primarily thanks to her insane energy as well as her chemistry with Meyers. This is a super long, but super funny, “Update”. I’ll let this go thirty minutes if it means we don’t get another sketch involving Cyrus playing “provocatively sketchy in a way that will generate plenty of online galleries”. [Grade: A-]
Cheerleader Alien Invasion: See, this is why I was never a cheerleader: all the alien abductions! Also, all the tech assistants who walked in on-camera and killed the joke and made everyone feel super awkward. Also, the aliens who came down, rapped, and then took the moon. Can we go back to the “Update” desk? I’m happy Cyrus finally got to play a non-sexified persona, but this was a bad sketch. What’s wrong with just creating backstories through cheers? That was a perfectly good set-up for a sketch. But apparently that was too simple, so we got bad wirework, awkward timing, and a sketch that had no business making the air. [Grade: D+]
Mornin’ Miami: As off-the-rails as that last sketch was, that’s how on-point this is. It’s a super simple premise, and they just build and build, adding insanity and variety throughout. We get random guests (“Jeff Dunham’s puppets are in studio. Jeff Dunham is not!”), subtle yet clear differences in the boredom each anchor portrays between takes, and a fantastic final punch line. There's just too much good stuff to cover here, so let me state this was top-to-bottom great. I salute you, Bitch Fantastic, and salute this sketch. Why the hell wasn’t this the post-monologue sketch? [Grade: A]
It’s Miley Cyrus, proving that she isn’t Ashlee Simpson, performing “We Can’t Stop” accompanied by three acoustic guitars. What feels lethargic on record feels more intimate in this setting. It’s still no “Wrecking Ball”, but it’s certainly more palatable. Mostly, I’m happy/annoyed that “Mornin’ Miami” was so good, if only because it proved my theory that Cyrus playing something other than her persona 1) was possible, and 2) could yield good results. It was, and it did. Such a waste. [Grade: B]
Poetry Class: Mike O’Brien! He’s alive! And…he’s off. At least the other new male cast members get to stick around, albeit as seat fillers. Bayer is back, and she is the MVP of tonight’s show, in terms of pure screen time. Her poet is what happens when you combine her Miley Cyrus with her Jacob The Bar Bitvzah Boy and give that offspring a few Red Bulls. It’s not a character so much as a series of affectations, but this is also the first iteration of this character. Maybe there’s something here, but it’s hard to tell, especially as we approach 1:30 am in the morning because SPORTS ARE DUMB AND SOMETIMES RUN OVER THEIR ALLOTTED TIME SLOT. (Sorry, sports, I love you. Just not right now.) Having Cyrus’ character come onto Bayer’s teacher is…interesting? It’s hard to tell if it’s a student coming out of her shell or a student trying to mess with the substitute. How fans of hers interpret that scene should be fairly interesting. It certainly seemed to be genuine, and perhaps another way to bring the whole show back to that Hannah Montana murder joke from the monologue. Hannah wouldn’t be anything but straight. But Miley? That’s a different story, and this potentially represents one of the more interesting personas she’s tried on tonight. “Mornin’ Miami” showed she could play adult characters. But this said more about her personal attitudes than anything involving a foam finger. Not a particularly great sketch, but certainly a fascinating one all the same. [Grade: B-]
Last Night: Last week, Kyle Mooney has a less-than-stellar first appearance on “Update”. But he redeems himself here as a man conflicted by Cyrus’ affection towards him. Yes, Cyrus is doing a variation on her persona here, but it’s one that warms it up rather than drags it down. Who doesn’t want a significant other to fill a room with his/her favorite stuff while getting access to tickets to all the concerts ever? If Digital Short-type segments are what it takes to introduce the newbies to the “SNL” world, maybe that’s best in the short term. Lord knows they were underrepresented tonight on the live portions. [Grade: B+]
Best Sketch: Mornin’ Miami
Worst Sketch: Cheerleader Practice
Biggest Takeaway #1: See everything above about the use of Cyrus. It was the easiest way to go, and both sides slid into the skid. It’s natural for the show to go this way, but it’s interesting that Cyrus and her team allowed it. “Mornin’ Miami” and “Poetry Class” offered up more fascinating ways this could have gone.
Biggest Takeaway #2: My God there are too many people in this cast. The core players barely have time to shine, never mind the six supporting members. I still keep an open Word document throughout each episode with the headshots of the newbies so I know whom they are. I am guessing I’ll have it open until Thanksgiving, given their current ratio of time onscreen to offscreen.
What did you think of tonight’s show? Was Cyrus to blame, or the writers, for the repetitious use of her tonight? How was Week 2 of the Meyers/Strong “Update” for you? Have any of the new cast members made an impression on you yet? Sound off below!