Often times, when a celebrity who's going through a period of scandal or notoriety hosts SNL, there's an effort to re-brand or show them off in a new light. Not to say that the numerous pearl-clutching headlines about Miley's performances/videos/Twitter beefs constitute anything truly scandalous, but, you know, people been talkin'. But intentionally or not, this week's SNL adopted Miley's defiant poses and went right at the Sexy Miley phenomenon, from the very first sketch (through, in fact, the very last sketch). Maybe the sexual energy of Miley Cyrus is just too overpowering not to succumb. Maybe her two decidedly demure (relatively speaking) musical performances were so she could re-charge and come back more aggressively raunchy than ever. But even if you somehow had not been aware that Miley Cyrus has transformed into a twerking baby doll, this episode let you know.
Armageddon Scenario of the Week
The cute hyperbole of MILEY'S TWERKING CAUSED THE APOCALYPSE isn't a bad bit, and I like how the time-traveling Old Miley aspect got us to the Vanessa Bayer Miley impersonation quicker and more unexpectedly. The impersonator/impersonatee thing is pretty much an obligation at this point — Miley already took part in a "Miley Cyrus Show" sketch a couple years ago, playing Justin Bieber back when his only controversy was crotch-grabbing and her only controversy was salvia (GUYS, REMEMBER SALVIA??) — but Bayer and Cyrus work well together. The sweet naiveté of Old Miley handing New Miley an American Girl doll ("it's that Molly you're always singin' about!") was almost … poignant? It was kind of an overstuffed opening, but not unappealingly so. Taran Killam's Robin Thicke delivered maybe the harshest commentary on the whole VMAs performance ("You ready to start grabbing at my junk while I half-sing?"), and Bobby Moynihan as the angry teddy bear ("WE SHOULDN'T BE DOING THIS!") was also a winner. ALSO, in the first of about six Jay Pharoah non sequiturs on the night, he hauled out his uncanny Will Smith impersonation in order to rib the preternaturally mature Smith kids for their open-mouthed gawking. The whole thing was kind of on par with the show's political cold-opens, actually. Commenting on the current-events issues that are dominating the headlines. Just with teddy-bear onesies.
Admirable Brevity of the Week
That was an incredibly short monologue, possibly because so much of the cold-open incorporated elements of what you might have expected in the monologue. Building up to the naked-Bobby-Moynihan wrecking-ball joke was enough.
New-Guy Showcase of the Week
After last week was an episode-long intro to the new featured players, the Fifty Shades of Grey Screen-Test sketch brought back the proud tradition of the celebrity-impersonation sketch. Let's see what you got, newbies! While Noël Wells's Emma Stone and Brooks Bennett's Phillip Seymour Hoffman were pretty on point, and John Milhiser's Jon Cryer was like some kind of uncanny elf unearthed from a time capsule, certainly nothing really approached Kate McKinnon's breakout impression work last season (Jodie Foster; Edie Falco). Best in show was Taran Killam's Christoph Waltz, though McKinnon's Jane Lynch is certainly something worth revisiting ("Hollywood Game Night" sketch, please). Kind of strange that so many of the female impersonations were low-energy and barely verbal — Aidy Bryant's Rebel Wilson; Noël Wells's Kristen Stewart — though I think I need to see more of Vanessa Bayer's Mary-Louise Parker.
Aidy Bryant Showcase of the Week
Okay, time to give Bryant lots more to do. She's managed to improve upon her "Girlfriends Talk Show" character every time it recurs, and her one-liners about singing in her bedroom, summer camp nicknames ("Night Crier"), and hanging out with her mom's divorced friend Donna were some of the night's best. Miley as a hip-hop-affecting teen was okay, if expected. Again, satirizing Miley's current incarnation is a bit of a challenge, since she seems like a spoof of herself anyway. All worth it for Aidy's made-up song, and also "Your name is Tara Arnold, and your family runs a Honda dealership."
Frightened Audience Moment of the Week
My oh my, did nobody in that audience know how to take the government-shutdown-themed "We Can't Stop" parody. Again, I think part of it is that while Taran Killam and Miley Cyrus dressed up like sexually crazed versions of John Boehner and Michele Bachmann is ridiculous and yet probably would not have been out of place in the actual "We Can't Stop" video. The places where the actual "We Can't Stop" iconography stop and the over-the-top parody elements begin is gray at best. Brooks Whelan as Sexy Uncle Sam? Too sexy! Taran Killam's actual butt? Too sexy! Though, honestly, it's nice to see that, one year after the Lonely Island departure, Killam has confidently stepped into the Comedy Twink role on this show.
Nineties Throwback of the Week
What an odd sensation to see the Clintons back in the hot seat on SNL. The "rotating Hillary biopic in various styles" gimmick executed decently well. I do wonder if this was something of an audition for Vanessa Bayer and Kate McKinnon, should Hillary end up running for president. Also, while I always love Nasim Pedrad's Arianna Huffington, I did find myself longing for Seth Meyers to be the object of her mellifluous advances.
Improvisation of the Week
Was Kate McKinnon's chair too short when she came on for her Weekend Update segment as a suburban mom obsessed with Grand Theft Auto V? Gotta respect her ability to stay in character (and on cue card) while finding a way to get back up to Cecily Strong's eye level. You're a pro, McKinnon. Total pro.
Meanwhile, Jay Pharoah's Shannon Sharpe is — once again — incredibly accurate and yet not in any way accessible. But everything was made better by another appearance by Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy. So, so freaked out by Cecily's presence at the Update desk, you guys.
Exposed Television Secret of the Week
So, yeah, the secret is out, and TV seems a bit less magical today, because a glitching camera during the cheerleaders' sketch led to a unplanned shot that revealed a crew member rigging Nasim Pedrad to a wire, for her upcoming alien abduction. Never again will we believe that an actress can fly. (Also? What a supremely strange sketch, though one which managed to feature McKinnon's "Dakota Flanning," so I guess it was worth it.)
Word Salad of the Week
I'm generally a fan of the sketches that just throw semi-related one-liners at the audience, so "Mornin' Miami" was basically all I was looking for. Frankly, I'm kind of sad we didn't get to see racist Foley artist Bill Spinks, nor footage of the worst-looking rabbits in the state of Florida. Meanwhile, kudos for singing just little enough of "I'll Stand By You" that the music rights didn't kick in.
Well-Earned Reward of the Week
The night's MVP was clearly Vanessa Bayer, so it's nice to see her get a late slot for her poetry-teacher showcase, a sketch that falls apart near the end (when the Miley Cyrus Sex Vortex manages to pull everything back into her orbit), but delivers some super solid bits before that.
Most Glaring "MILEY IS TWENTY YEARS OLD" Moment of the Week
Hey, Kyle Mooney, I totally get it. The awkward comedy of a man who doesn't want to have sex with Miley Cyrus! Even though, like, obviously! And then his friends can't manage to convince him of how great sex with Miley will be, even while increasingly ludicrous elements are introduced to the scenario! All of this makes perfect comedy sense and the punch lines are decently MILEY IS TWENTY MILEY CYRUS IS TWENTY YEARS OLD AND I KNOW IT BECAUSE YOU JUST SAID SO. Nothing kills the comedy quicker than the thought of two SNL dudes rubbing up on Miley Cyrus while two more cheer them on. That's textbook.