At risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I feel the need to exclaim how done I am with anything Miley Cyrus related. Her obvious campaign to shed her Disney image entered unrelentingly annoying territory years ago and has just sat there as people ate it up like candy. Surely, the fact that she’s now leading Saturday Night Live’s 41st season on her third hosting gig, and previously had a prominent spot on the 40th Anniversary Special, is proof of this. Lorne Michaels wouldn’t put someone in this position if he wasn’t convinced they can bring viewer numbers. I completely expect Cyrus to easily carry the night, beneath her absurd clothes and prominent tongue is a very talented entertainer after all, but her insane persona burns my retinas.
Despite being yet another musical number, the monologue was actually one of the better parts of the night. Over the course of a few minutes, Cyrus sang “My Way” over a montage of crazy summer 2015 events and people that we will (hopefully) never deal with again. It was essentially an In Memoriam for insanity. We had Rachael Dolezal (Vanessa Bayer), Kim Davis (Aidy Bryant), Dentist who kill Cecil (Taran Killam), and many other headliners over the past three months. Each cast member was only given a few seconds to work and yet they all made the most of their time. My personal favorite was Bobby Moynihan starting off as Jared Fogle, and then turning, taking his glasses off, and becoming Josh Duggar. Yeah, those two basically are the same at this point.
The big news by far is Hillary Clinton dropping by once again. It was exciting to watch even though the appearance was previously leaked. What made it work so well was that Clinton didn’t play herself like she usually does. There was no stopping in for applause and recognition here. Instead, Clinton played a bartender named Val who served drinks to Hillary Clinton, played by Kate McKinnon. It was an incredible pairing and both women did an excellent job. The ever talented McKinnon never wavered as she made Clinton into a wild-eyed vodka lover who wants to mount Trump’s hair on her future Oval Office. Similarly, Clinton effortlessly brought Val to life and formed noticeable chemistry with the impersonating comedienne right across from her. McKinnon briefly knocking at how Clinton should have backed same-sex marriage sooner was hilariously poignant too.
Leslie Jones clearly used her summer off SNL to hone her skills. Her first season as a cast member was marred with blown lines and completely uncomfortable delivery. It began to look like she would get sent back to the writer’s room in the off-period. Instead, she’s back on stage and was actually better than ever. She lead three skits and didn’t miss a single beat. Her big moment was easily “Katz’ Deli” where she had to emulate the classic fake orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally. It was a segment that didn’t start off that great (and ended even worse), but vastly improved as Jones screamed a full story with her orgasm. It was a nightmarish tale filled with broken condoms, a man named Marco, and a dutch oven. I was laughing all the way through.
Recent seasons of SNL have had noticeable issues when it came to ending sketches. They either don’t have endings at all, or just last way longer than they’re supposed to. Last night actually had both happen. The former came during the Cold Open which had Taran Killam and Cecily Strong playing Donald and Melania Trump. Both cast members did well but the skit never generated much in the way of significant laughter. It really was a weak way to start a new season. To make matters worse, the transition into the classic opening line was literally, “And like everybody LIVE FROM NEW YORK IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!” As for the former, the previously mentioned “Katz’ Deli” ended not on Jones screaming, as it should have, but on a discussion of potato salad and a random thrown in line by Vanessa Bayer.
The “50’s Dance” sketch was literally a means for Cyrus to push the “I’m not a kid anymore!” attitude down our throats some more. It was so blatant, characters went out of their way to exclaim that she “hasn’t been from Montana in a long time.” Get it?! The aggressive rapping by Cyrus was humorous too at the beginning, solely because it came on unexpectedly. Then it continued and got old fairly quickly. As far as I’m concerned, the most impressive thing here was newcomer Jon Rudnitsky. He didn’t do much in the way of humor, but since it was his very first SNL sketch, he was surprisingly composed as Cyrus licked whipped cream off his face.
“Millennials” was pretty much dead on arrival. It’s old hat by this point to make fun of obsessively texting 20-30 year olds who believe they deserve promotions after barely doing work. Yet here’s SNL coming up to the gate with an entire segment dedicated to it. It wasn’t funny, and I really, really hope this doesn’t become a recurring bit since we have cast members in this age group. It makes me wish Pete Davidson was used better too. His only skits were those revolving around his youth, and now that he’s on his second season, the writers should really stretch him out.
Miley Cyrus was Miley Cyrus, and if you’re a fan of her, you probably had a good night. To her credit, she didn’t blow any lines and did well enough as the connective tissue for other cast members. However, if you’re more a fan of SNL, it was disappointing that they never went beyond a musician trying to be comical by just reading the cue cards. Her characters lacked emotion and personality. When she wasn’t dressing up normally to appear in a sketch, she wore outlandish garb for her musical performances. It was during these moments that I actually compared her to Lady Gaga. Only difference is it looked like Cyrus wore actual garbage at first glance. Lady Gaga is also better.
The night itself was mostly average. Some sketches were really good, like “Hillary Clinton Bar Talk,” “Katz’ Deli,” and the monologue, while others were quite laughless, like “The Squad,” “Millennials,” and the cold open. Weekend Update took some baby steps forward in quality, showing some actual chemistry between Colin Jost and Michael Che, but that still has plenty of room to grow. It also didn’t help that Kyle Mooney’s Pope completely bombed. If this was a middle of the season episode, it probably would have fared better. Sometimes you can chalk up an okay episode to exhaustion or time constraints. However, with a whole summer to work on material, it was expected that this premiere would do better than normal. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.