Saturday Night Live, Season 41, Episode 1, “Miley Cyrus”
Airs Saturdays at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
Welcome to PopOptiq’s Saturday Night Live review/recap/extravaganza! Hopefully everyone had a good summer and is excited about discussing the country’s biggest showcase for sketch comedy. On that note, let’s dig right into how horribly season 41 crashed and burned right out of the gate.
Host/Musical Guest: Unless the ratings for this puppy are just gargantuan, Miley Cyrus isn’t going to be hosting anything again anytime soon. The whole point of SNL having a celebrity host is to draw in viewers who are fans of that host and see how they operate in the strange worlds the show’s writers create for them. So rarely does the show push its host to the side, to the point where an argument can be made that Hillary Clinton acts as more of a host than Miley. Starting from her monologue, Cyrus is more or less treated as window dressing, as she serenades a rotating cast of pop culture figures time is likely to forget. She barely has a line or appears onscreen during the Hillary sketch, spends most of the When Harry Met Sally sketch just sitting and giving Leslie Jones a break, and just walks around “The Millennials” chewing gum and typing rapidly on a cell phone. Her one true showcase sketch is the faux-Grease sketch at the top, where the whole joke is that Miley’s character is way too “hardcore” for these teenyboppers. Even her two musical performances elicit more vulgar curiosity than genuine enthusiasm. It’s hard to root for a performer having an earnest moment when they’re crying whilst singing about karate. Cyrus isn’t even able to transform the evening into a glorious train wreck worth experiencing, simply because she is hardly around to nudge anything off the rails. Miley, what’s good? Not this.
Best Sketch: A lackluster host isn’t an automatic death sentence when the writing is strong. Just look at what closes the show: A pre-taped bit where Kyle Mooney lives out his entire life while standing outside a door trying to get Beck Bennet and Bobby Moynihan to talk him out of marrying Miley. It’s a clever conceit that’s executed with all the sweaty neuroticism Mooney lives and breathes, has sharp sight gags whenever Mooney opens the door to see where his life is progressing, and has two of the best straight men in the business in Bennet and Moynihan to anchor the whole thing. It’s a genuine winner. Now, if you’re crying foul that choosing a pre-taped sketch is kind of cheating, well…
Weakest Sketch: …that’s because the rest of the writing just plain stinks. Stinks to high heaven. Reeks like a jack-0-lantern that still resides on your porch in December. The writing tonight is just all ideas and no execution; every sketch feels like a proof of concept, not a narrative. The show at least establishes this early with the faux-Grease sketch. The sketch is just a repeat of the setup/punchline of most of the cast pairing off and singing cute lyrics about their relationships while new guy Jon Rudnitsky — who looks like the product of putting all of the current white male cast members on the show through the teleporter in The Fly — doesn’t know how to deal with Miley’s constant references to molly. One-joke sketches can work, and in many ways they’re the show’s bread and butter, but that joke has to be solid, not a broad, tired first-draft premise that shouldn’t even appear in a submission packet.
Weekend Update: Even through the more taxing outings last season, Update was the often the ringer, a ten minute reprieve that was guaranteed to generate one or two good hearty laughs. And while tonight Update eventually does get us there, the news desk is plagued with the same half-ideas that populate the rest of the show. While Jost and Che are still affable and charming and sharp — Che’s comparison of Donald Trump to Sanjaya is the best of the news reads — Jost’s dumb Polack joke is indicative of the absolute scraps the host throws to the audience for most of the segment. Of the three panelists (Pete Davidson doing standup, Mooney as the Pope via Andrew Dice Clay, and Leslie Jones, relationship expert), Jones is the only winner. Jones is one of the few comedians who is able to come in hot and somehow increase her energy level throughout her set. Her reading of “I’m one of those clowns that you don’t wanna have sex with?” just slays, partially because it’s great, and partially because the audience is so starved for joy by this point in the evening. Jones is often the highlight of any show she’s given a showcase in, and tonight she almost single-handedly saves the show from utter failure.
Other Notes: New guy Rudnitsky seems like he’s perfectly funny, and he’s already appeared in more sketches than poor Brooks Wheelan ever did, but really SNL? You’re going to add a new cast member and you chose another white dude? Next week’s host/musical guest combo continues the much deserved coronation of Amy Schumer, and will give The Weekend the stage unburdened by Ariana Grande.