I’m not a fan of Miley Cyrus, but found that the uproar over her sexualized personal overblown, prudish, and it reeked of slut-shaming. I never was a fan of the pop star – a passably gifted singer with a limited acting range, she hardly ever captured my attention. That’s why I was so shocked with her very good performance on last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live. She was lucky that the writers seemed to be working on their B+ game (it’s been a while since the game was A-level), playing to Cyrus’ strengths, and making up for her weaknesses.
The show started off very strongly with a cold open that will be remembered fondly. It’s New York City in a postapocalyptic future, the year 2045. Why did the world end? Not from the bailout, but because of Miley Cyrus’ terrible VMA performance. The skit was brilliant because cast member Vanessa Bayer got trot out her funny Miley Cyrus impression, playing “old” Hannah Montana-era Miley Cyrus while the real Miley Cyrus gets to spoof her current slutted up image. The premise has current Miley, done up and prepped for her VMA performance, only to be interrupted by the Miley Cyrus of television past, who needed to warn her about the consequences of her performance. Bayer’s nasally raspy, voiced take on Cyrus is really awesome, and the real Cyrus gets into the act and is funny as the two exchange quips – I loved how the two Mileys (or should it be Milies?) were able to repeat in unison what Cyrus supposedly says first thing when she wakes up. Usually when the actual celebrity meets her impersonator it can get a little awkward and weird, but the premise allows for both to interact,resulting in a very funny scene.
After the credits, Cyrus took the stage for her monologue, suited up in a midrift-baring suit that resembled Chanel (not your grandma’s Chanel, though). The monologue was well-rehearsed and delivered with the consummate and polished skill of a decent stand up. Those expecting pot shots at Sinead O’Connor will be disappointed – in fact, she left all of her controversies behind, simply promising that she won’t twerk during the evening (something she couldn’t keep – wait until the “Girlfriendsd Talk Show” sketch).
The first sketch of the evening was a fake audition reel of different celebs trying out for the audio book of 50 Shades of Gray. This skit was the worst of the evening, and thankfully we got the mediocre out-of-the-way – it was just an excuse to have the cast members line up and do their impressions – a way for everyone to get into the game. The impressions ranged from duds (Cyrus’ unfunny Scarlett Johannsen – they should’ve gotten Mindy Kaling who does a great Scarlett Johannsen in her standup) to hilarious (Taran Killam’s on-spot Christoph Waltz). Thompson gets to do his dummy Steve Harvey impression, who as per the running joke, has trouble with literacy, while Aidy Bryant’s strangely silent as Rebel Wilson (they couldn’t give Bryant do anything with an explosive personality like Rebel Wilson?). Nasim Pedrad is fantastic as Aziz Ansari and Bryant manages to nail Mary Louise Parker in one ironically delivered line, and Kate McKinnon is good as Jane Lynch. But the skit doesn’t really do much but have the actors show off their impression skills – even though it’s a fake audition reel, it felt at times like an actual audition reel for the performers.
Thankfully the next skit was another episode of “Girlfriends Talk Show” – a great recurring sketch with Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong. The premies is obvious by now – Strong’s the more confident, but flakier Kyra and Bryant’s the more awkward Morgan – Morgan’s sensitive and somewhat dependant on Kyra’s friendship. Every episode has a guest playing an interloper who horns in on Morgan’s territory as the cohost of “Girlfriends Talk Show.” Cyrus shows up as Tara, a rapper wannabe who calls herself Lil’ Teeny, who met Kyra in Hip-Hop Class. Each girlfriend gets a rapper name – Kyra was Krazy K and Morgan’s is the unfortunate Night Cryer, a name she got from camp (a great detail). By now, the recurring sketch is pretty redundant, but Bryant’s wonderful as the emotionally need and insecure Morgan who tries her darndest to assert herself, despite the flashier Lil’ Teeny – and Cyrus breaks her promise and twerks a bit as she “raps.” The writers paint a great picture of Morgan – someone who’s mom is her best friend (in fact, while Kyra and Tara are partying in Hip-Hop Class, Morgan’s with her mom “consoling a divorcee”).
Then we get a season-high sketch: a brilliant, frame-by-frame parody of Cyrus’ infamous “We Can’t Stop” video – except in this one, the song is celebrating the government shut down, with Cyrus gyrating and grinding as Michele Bachmann, while Killam’s a very, very, very gay (and tan) John Boehner – complete with gold grill and a belly shirt and g-string. Cyrus is lucky that she’s associated with this great sketch, though it’s Killam’s show (those who worried about how the show would fare without Bill Hader, should rest assured – Killam and Kenan Thompson are ready for the title of MVP).
Then there’s on okay Piers Morgan sketch that jokes about the recent cancellations of the planned Hillary Clinton projects on NBC and CNN – Pedrad is a good Ariana Huffington, who introduces a series of films of Clinton films – all decent parodies – with Bayer being in the funniest one, in which she plays every fear and right-wing cliché of Hillary Clinton out there. There’s a tiny flaw in the logic of the show when Jay Pharoah trots out his seemingly required Obama impression because it’s not clear if Pharoah is playing the actual president, or an actor playing the president – because the parody is, after all, a parody of a supposed film (Cyrus comes in as a tarted up Clinton); Pharaoh should’ve played his Obama impression slightly off, so that we understand we’re not supposed to be looking at the real President Obama.
The musical performances are both okay – you have to be into Cyrus’ music to appreciate them. I’m not, so I’m not the best audience for her music – her first performance is of “Wrecking Ball” which sounds like Cher’s A/C-metal-pop period of the 1980s, while her acoustic rendition of “We Can’t Stop” fails to establish her as a serious artist. Cyrus is talented with a good voice, but isn’t terribly interesting as a pop star.
Then we get to see a “Weekend Update” sketch – Strong and Myers make a good duo – not as great as Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon or Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – but they still have time (unless the rumors of Myers’ jumping ship is true). There were some okay jabs at the government shutdown, the new Iranian foreign minister, Ronan Farrow’s questionable paternity, even a Ray Parker, Jr. joke.
Then McKinnan pops up as a housewife obsessed with Grand Theft Auto V. It’s a blah sketch that relies solely on the audience’s delight at hearing a mom use potty talk. Pharoah then comes on as NFL commentator Shannon Sharpe – and as usual his impression is spot-on, but it feels like that’s all Pharoah does: celebrity impressions. The best of the lot is Bayer with her Jacob, the Bar Mitzvah Boy. I know lots of folks find this character tiring, but I like the kid, who is an adorable take on the over-rehearsed kid tasked to give a speech; the added twist to this formula is Strong’s presence, which unnerves Jacob.
Then comes a “eh” sketch about a group of cheerleaders who picked off one-by-one by an alien, coming to earth to steal our moon. Cyrus does a shallow Valley Girl character while Killam does another flamboyantly gay guy. The skit feels very mid 1990s – there are even badly-hidden wires to whisk the characters away as the UFO sucks them up. It was silly and not all that funny.
Something with a little more promise was the “Morning Miami” sketch that had Cyrus, McKinnan and Bobby Moynihan playing 3 empty-headed talking heads who host a morning chat show. They have to do promos for the week, and turn on their inane TV charm, complete with dumb puns, but then immediately fall back into a slumping, sullen state as they wait for the next promo. It’s a decent sketch, with McKinnan stealing the show with her especially strong grasp of the joke.
Whenever you have a young starlet on SNL, there always has to be a school sketch, this one about a bad poetry class. Mike O’Brien does a great job as a burned out teacher who leaves too early, only to make room for Bayer’s Miss Meadows, a naive, all-wet poetry teacher who tries to endear herself to the students and make poetry sound fun and cool. She’s hopelessly out of touch with her students, some of whom make the predictable “I love pot” jokes. It was okay sketch, but Bayer’s fantastic in it.
The final skit of the show was a go-nowhere one with Kyle Mooney who has to decide whether he should have sex with Miley Cyrus, who’s all over him. Despite encouragement from the other guys, he’s unsure. Yeah, I didn’t get it either.
And so that was Miley Cyrus’ turn at bat, hosting SNL. She did a surprisingly good job, but was lucky because the writers seemed on-point this week as well (especially gratifying after the okay episode last week with Tina Fey).