Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' -- Miley Cyrus
Welcome to the 41st season of Saturday Night Live! I’m your host (of these recaps), Emilie Sowers. I’m very excited to cover this upcoming season, which has the potential to be both a more stable year after the various cast shake ups of the past couple seasons, and a particularly exciting year as it will take place during an already bonkers election season, the sort of time during which, historically, SNL has really shone. Our inaugural season 41 episode will be hosted by and will feature the musical stylings of Miley Cyrus, a person who is universally beloved, not at all divisive, and who definitely won’t cause any Internet commenters to declare the decline of SNL/modern society/the entire world. Let’s dig in!
Cold Open: A message for America from presidential candidate Donald Trump and his wife Melania. It felt like this was more important as an introduction to a new impression than as a showcase for any specific jokes, but when the impression being introduced is Taran Killam’s Donald Trump, that’s sort of okay. Killam succeeded in making me feel wildly uncomfortable while looking at his face, which essentially means he embodied Trump perfectly. Also, shout out to Cecily Strong for her perfectly dead-eyed Melania. As good as the impressions were, though, it felt like a bit more could have been done with this one. Maybe it’s a case of Trump already being too much of a caricature to properly caricature, but I hope the writing for him gets as sharp as Killam’s performance. (B)
Monologue: Miley Cyrus laments the collective passing (from the public eye) of this summer’s various whack job celebrities with a rendition of “My Way.” I mean, at least it was a slight variation on the too-often-used musical monologue? I don’t know, this one just felt pretty boring to me. This summer certainly was full of crazy personalities, and I’m sure the writers are disappointed the season started too late for Josh Duggar- and Rachel Dolezal-centric sketches, but having cast members dressed as those characters silently stand on stage and wave to a Frank Sinatra song wasn’t a particularly strong way to kick off the show. (C)
Abilify Commercial: A commercial for a mental health medication designed specifically for delusional Republican presidential candidates. This one was solidly clever. It highlighted the sheer absurdity of what’s going on in this election cycle better than the cold open, and I actually laughed out loud at a few different points, like the narrator’s declaration that the drug was “the only dementia medication designed for eleven specific people.” (A-)
Homecoming Dance: A Grease-esque school dance scene in which a young boy looks to make Miley Cyrus his sweetheart and discovers she has more in mind than just getting pinned. Look! Miley Cyrus raps and is into weird sex stuff! Sigh. This one had its moments-- Keenan’s delivery of lines like, “Oh, it’s gonna happen” and “Too late, we’re goin’ steady now” were pretty golden, and I’ve got to love any sketch that ends with two characters riding away on a giant piñata-- but the Miley raps/generally acts inappropriately well has run dry, and they could have picked a stronger sketch for such an early slot in the night. (C+)
Val the Bartender: Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton laments to a bartender named Val, played by the actual Hillary Clinton, about her frustrations with the presidential race. There is something so ridiculous and perfectly SNL about a Hillary Clinton appearance being sandwiched between a sketch in which Miley Cyrus licks a man’s face and a musical performance in which Miley Cyrus sings while essentially naked. God bless the USA.
This was a great first political appearance of the election season, and an overall funny and efficient sketch. Kate McKinnon continued to kill it with her Hillary impression (and her delivery of “Eh, could’ve been sooner” when discussing gay marriage was spectacular), but Hillary herself stood out as well; she came across as fun and willing to make light of herself, and she revealed a killer Donald Trump impression. Breezy and enjoyable, this felt like a positive indicator of what’s to come with the political sketches this season. (A-)
Weekend Update: Not a ton of laugh-out-loud moments here, but it did seem like Che and Jost were settling into a better rhythm. They took some extra time to riff on their first few stories, which led to their dynamic feeling a little looser. Jost and Che seem to have settled into the roles of gleeful hooligan kid and amused but annoyed big brother, respectively, and the dynamic is working for them, although there’s definitely still room for improvement. The Update guests were hit or miss. I tend to enjoy Kyle Mooney’s work on the show, but I wasn’t sure exactly what joke he was going for with his Pope imitation, and his fake Italian accent made his dialogue legitimately hard to understand. Leslie Jones and Pete Davidson’s behind-the-desk stand up bits are always welcome, and though their routines didn’t stand out as much as some of their other ones from last season, they both did a good job as always. (B+)
The Millennials: A commercial for a new Fox drama series centered on the lives of spoiled, entitled, and social media-obsessed twenty-somethings. The concept of millenials being the worst generation because they use phones too often and are generally selfish is getting a little tired, and when this sketch started down that road I was fully prepared to hate it. But I’ll admit it won me over with some solid jokes (new cast member Jon Rudnitsky shouting “I’ll never die!” as he flings himself out of a window after his phone, Davidson claiming he identifies as gay but only sleeps with women) and Kate McKinnon’s ridiculous but perfect imitation of the way kids are talking these days. I wish they could have found a better framing device than a commercial for a new Fox drama, which never quite made sense as a delivery vehicle for the jokes, but this sketch managed overall to be better than it had any right to be. (B)
Katz’s Delicatessen: A group of girlfriends imitates the famous When Harry Met Sally orgasm scene while at lunch at Katz’s Delicatessen, but one of them takes her fake orgasms too far, sharing details about her love life that her friends would rather not know. Eh. I usually love any time I get to see Leslie Jones scream (she’s hands down one of the best shouters on television) but this was pretty much just the same joke-- which was only fine to start with-- over and over. It might have worked better if her orgasms had involved more extreme escalations with time, but we pretty much just got the same condom-breaking joke three times in a row. (C-)
The Squad: Taylor Swift's squad literally takes over the world, leaving two sorority girls to figure out what to do now they've been left behind. I’m always impressed by the crazy dedication to production design and editing these SNL fake movie trailers show (last year’s young adult fantasy parody showed a similarly striking attention to detail) but I felt this one could have benefited from being a little bit shorter. There were some good jokes scattered throughout and I liked it a lot while it was on, but I honestly forgot I had just watched it until I checked my notes a few minutes later. But bonus points for the “directed by Alfonso Cuaron” final tag, and Keenan’s shuddery delivery of “Matt LeBlanc.” (B)
Ruby Nichols: Leslie Jones stars as a perpetually frustrated, long-since-forgotten 1960’s late night host dealing with the horrifying racism of her time period. A great concept for a sketch that just didn’t quite pan out. This one felt like it could have used more time in the writers’ room, and it also featured some clunky performances based, I think, on the fact that once this sketch rolled around the episode was running pretty low on time. I’d be interested to see if they could bring this one back and improve it, but this time just didn’t work for me. (C)
Wedding: Kyle Mooney is marrying Miley Cyrus, who is perfect for him in a way that makes him feel suffocated. As he worries about whether or not to marry her, she warps time in his office, and his entire laugh flashes by. I know the Good Neighbor sketches are a source of division among SNL viewers, but count me on the pro team. Their increasing weirdness just gets me every time, and this one was no exception. I was uncomfortable with the way the Mooney-Cyrus pairing was presented in the pre-taped bit Mooney and Bennett did the last time she hosted, as I found it all a little misogynistic. This one, though, focused just on the silly side of things in a way that worked well. Mooney’s mounting frustration expressed through a near-dead pan was great (I loved his angry insistence that his friends didn’t need Miley’s “extra money”), and the signature Good Neighbor bizarre escalation got crazy without getting uncomfortable. The In Memoriam was a just weird enough ending; I’m sure I’ll once again be in the minority here, but I thought this was a good sketch on which to end the night. (A-)
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:
- “Before Abilify, I used to go on national TV and say, ‘Here’s how I’d eradicate ISIS.’ Me! It’s like, “What?!’”
- Colin Jost referring to Bernie Sanders as a human Lorax was great.
- I didn’t know I needed a Donald Trump-Sanjaya comparison in my life, but I definitely did. Thanks, Pete Davidson.
- “What’s happening to you?” “I don’t know! I think I’m, like, feeling her whole deal!”
- If you told me on Monday that I’d end this week crying while watching Miley Cyrus sing a song about her dead dog, I don’t know if I would have believed you. But I guess that’s the magic of this crazy life we all lead.
- Cast member of the week is Kate McKinnon for continuing to crush her Hillary impersonation, for her voice during the Millenials sketch, and for making me actually laugh out loud just by saying, “I’ll have the soup, hot!”
And that’s a wrap on episode 1, folks! What did everybody think? Sound off in the comments!