When Saturday Night Live goes on a particularly bad run of sketches, it can be hard to pull things out. Sometimes it’s easy to see the glimmers of humor in a bad sketch, or pick out particular things that were funny even if the overall scene wasn’t. But the first half of this week’s episode was so catastrophic, it just put me in a foul mood. I remember Cyrus’ last time hosting the show, which was coincidentally one of the worst episodes SNL has aired in recent years. But back then, she was just an ordinary teeny pop star who was beginning to break away from her wholesome origins.
Now she’s Miley Cyrus, twerk ambassador, whose lovely performance at the VMAs (which is best summed up by this tweet) has made her the subject of a thousand screeching articles either proclaiming her inches from utter ruin or some new icon of feminism. It was inarguably the perfect time to bring Miley back to SNL, and since her last appearance two years ago, there’s no doubt that she’s developed more self-awareness. That doesn’t mean she’s funny, or a particularly engaging sketch actor, but it was definitely more interesting seeing her on-screen this time around.
The show did a perfectly fine job addressing her VMAs performance in the cold open (a rare cold open to feature the host, but I always approve of that move). I was glad we avoided a dull government shutdown skit where a lot of people talk into microphones (Jim Downey needs to be weaned off those sketches permanently). I enjoyed Bobby Moynihan’s work as the horrified teddy bear Miley would later molest on stage. But why have Vanessa Bayer dash out to do her Miley impression right off the bat? It felt crammed in to an opening sketch filled with walk-on parts and didn’t make any goddamn sense. I know it’s a sketch comedy show but they tried to have it make sense, and that just made things even worse.
Miley’s monologue was better, although boy was it short. She can be funny, though! She’s reading scripted material gently digging at herself, but she does it nicely. Saying she won’t twerk anymore because “Now that white people are doing it, it seems kind of lame” was a great line, although she broke her own twerking pledge literally minutes later. Come on, Miley.
Then we were put through a cavalcade of awfulness unlike anything I’ve seen on SNL in a while. I assume it’s just one of those weeks—sometimes every sketch just doesn’t click and the combo factor makes it especially hard to watch. I hope this isn’t the new normal for the show as it finds its feet with the new cast, but everything from the 50 Shades Of Grey screen tests to the cheerleader abduction sketch fell flat for me.
Obviously we cannot call for a moratorium on “everyone busts out a bunch of 10-second impressions!” sketches, because that is a hallmark of SNL and it can make for a really good time. Not 50 Shades. The lame S&M humor, plus a bunch of intriguing impressions (Moynihan as Seth Rogen? Noel Wells as Emma Stone? Aidy Bryant as Rebel Wilson?) that went nowhere, added up to a big bust. Taran Killam’s Christoph Waltz was on point, and I couldn’t help but laugh at Steve Harvey (Kenan Thompson) referring to Rebel Wilson as “Chester Cheetah,” but that’s it.
The Girlfriends talk show is one of the few hits from last year that SNL can bring back, and I always appreciate Bryant’s work in it. It’s not a laugh-out-loud sketch but Bryant is so convincingly lame and plays her building anger so nicely. But this one was particularly flat. Miley brought nothing to the table as a rapping teen and Cecily Strong was almost robotic in her line deliveries for some reason. I hope this is something we see two or three times a year, rather than six, but I worry because SNL is out of perennials right now.
We veered back to the shutdown with a “We Can’t Stop” spoof. Shrug. Taran Killam and Miley were both certainly very game, but you got the joke after 15 seconds and then just wanted it to end. Then Ariana Huffington (why?) introduced a bunch of spoof Hillary Clinton movies and I started pondering whether I was going to give this one an F. It really deserved it right then. You’re gonna spoof the Breaking Bad finale this way?
Weekend Update was largely a bust as well. I think I need Seth Meyers to leave the show. Strong doesn’t have enough room to establish a personality and seems to be cribbing off of Meyers’ delivery so far. The one memorable moment was the return of Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy (a character I adore and will never get sick of) and watching Strong try to interact with him was terrific.
That was followed by an interminable cheerleader abduction sketch that was seemingly plagued with technical difficulties (you saw a stagehand fiddling around with the cast at one point) and summed up the whole night. Then, weirdly, the last three sketches were really funny. I often like the work they put at the end of the night, but it always surprises me when an episode is this backloaded. These were the only three good sketches.
“Mornin’ Miami” was just a hilarious, brilliant piece of sketch writing that built perfectly, had me genuinely intrigued what the final tag would be (and “Bitch Fantastic” did not disappoint) and needs to return until they’ve driven their weird pop-culture references into the ground and I hate it. A moment of special praise for Moynihan, whose contained rage in this scene was hysterical to watch. I loved him telling Kate McKinnon to “shut it up.”
Poetry Corner was another Bayer performance loaded with her weird mannerisms, which she leans on heavily as a performer, but hey, they can be pretty funny. The final gag of Miley falling in love with the poetry teacher was the weakest, but Kenan’s haiku and Bayer’s genuine interest in whether he would find his weed (“Yeah, me too”) had me laughing.
I get why those two weirdo sketches aired late in the night. But why did the digital short-esque piece about Kyle Mooney trying to have sex with a seemingly perfect Miley get shoved to the end of the night? It was really funny, it played on all the headline-grabbing stuff SNL likes to cram at the top of the show, and it did a good job introducing two new cast members (Mooney and Beck Bennett) by having them play themselves. I don’t know why SNL arranges things the way it does sometimes.
- I still can’t tell these new motherfuckers apart. Mooney has the long hair, and Beck Bennett I vaguely know already from the AT&T commercials. But John Milhiser and Brooks Whelan haven’t really done much to distinguish themselves yet.
- Mike O’Brien is awesome though and he should be in every sketch. Noel Wells is not doing much for me yet. That Emma Stone impression was pretty off.
- “If I owe anyone an apology, it’s to the people who make the bottom halves of shirts.”
- Piers Morgan introduces himself. “If I was in a cartoon, I would be the voice of a fancy hedgehog.”
- “Are ghosts real? Turns out no. Here to talk about it is actor Topher Grace.”
- “He’s a helicopter, he’s a machine gun, he’s a bigot! Racist Foley artist Bill Space is here to make some funny sounds and some awful comments!”
- Mooney is confused about Miley’s age. “I thought she was 100.” “How old do you think we are?” “500 and 600.”