Welcome back, nerds. A lot has happened since we lost got together to pick apart the 90-minute sketch show assembled from scratch each week by artisan comedy ninjas. I’d offer a rundown of the events of this past summer but SNL already did that in its opening monologue, which you’ve likely seen, so let’s just skip the preamble and get right to it.
Who is Miley Cyrus now? She’s someone who can reliably be counted on to make a pro-pot reference literally within the first ten seconds of her opening monologue. She’s someone who cries during a song about her dead pets, even though her backing band is actually called The Dead Pets. She’s goes through costume changes like snotty tissues on a sick day, including one outfit that looks like stacked pieces from the board game Sorry! and another that can only be described as Knotty Dread Rapunzel In The Garden Of Eden. (No actual ‘snotty tissue dress’ yet.) But here’s the thing: you cannot look away. You have to admire the committed showmanship of someone with as many costume changes as Miley last night or during her stint hosting the VMAs. Even when her songs are kind of boring, which I feel comfortable saying I found these new-ish tunes to be, you can still just hit mute and be entranced by the majesty of this madness, the question of whether it’s manufactured or not rendered completely moot at this point. You have to admire someone who so thoroughly controls the conversation about her. “I don’t think she’s been ‘from Montana’ for a long time” someone else winkingly says about a character Miley plays in the one sketch last night that was truly built around her. Damn right. Miley Cyrus has so thoroughly shed her molted Hannah Montana skin that we’ve mostly stopped talking about that era of her life. Going into this episode, my question was “Do we really need more Miley Cyrus right now after the VMAs last month?” After watching it, my question is, “Do I maybe love Miley Cyrus?” Yes, I do. Just like the effect Taylor Swift has on her ever-burgeoning squad: I think I’m, like, feeling her whole deal.
Donald and Melania Trump Cold Open
When Donald Trump announced he was running for president several months ago, it seemed like a godsend to SNL. As Pete Davidson deftly pointed out during a desk piece on Weekend Update last night, the joke of President Trump has ceased being funny and is now a real and scary possibility. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t all sit back and enjoy the debut of Taran Killam’s incisive impersonation. He has the resting dick face pout down, as well as the perpetual squinty thing and the enunciation of the word ‘huge.’ Cecily Strong has a way with playing oddball exotic wives/girlfriends, and always makes them her own, transcending what could merely be an arm candy role. Here, she plays Melania with an Arianna Huffington-esque accent as she backs up Trump in a way that points out how uniquely unqualified he is to hold any sort of public office. (That she thinks he went to Hogwarts School of Business is a wonderful thing.) The sooner we don’t have to see this impression anymore, the better for humanity. But for now, anything that lets the air of The Donald’s tires a bit helps us cope.
Miley Cyrus Monologue
Our host emerges wearing the traditional camouflage garb deployed when infiltrating a flower garden on Planet Rainbow. She’s only there to sing a typically throaty rendition of “My Way,” though, while the rest of the cast enacts a hit parade from this past summer. Sole new cast member Jon Rudnitsky makes his debut here, playing Turtle from Entourage, and he will go on to pop up in many other sketches throughout the night, familiarizing us with his face. Other highlights here include temporarily inescapable folks like Rachel Dolezal, the dentist who shot Cecil the Lion, and Lenny Kravitz’s junk. (Aidy Bryant deserves special recognition for her spot-on Kim Davis, despite the fact that this putrid garbage-person doesn’t deserve to be immortalized on SNL so much as she should be instantly forgotten via Men In Black brain zappers for all eternity.) The sketch is basically an advertisement for Halloween 2015, and it kicks things off with a bang.
Abilify for Candidates
Thanks to outlets like Funny Or Die and CollegeHumor, and the apparent viral mandate for all late-night talk shows, well-produced commercial parodies have proliferated a lot in recent years. Somehow, though, SNL can still frequently knock it out of the park in a way that honors the show’s legacy and still feels fresh. This Abilify ad is a perfect example. “The only dementia medication designed for 11 specific people” is a tribute to all the Republican presidential wannabes who are already out of the race or on the way out. You can almost imagine some writer for the show asking, “What in the world made Scott Walker think he could be president?” and this essential sketch unspooling from there.
The moment it was apparent that this Homecoming 1955-set sketch was a play on Grease, I was hoping the central joke would involve that part in the song, “Tell Me More,” where one of the lyrics is “Did she put up a fight?”—which, I mean, how did something so rapey ever make into an otherwise goofy-cute song? Instead, we get a Miley Cyrus who has apparently been sent back in time with her edgy persona intact, poodle skirt notwithstanding. As a first real introduction to Jon Rudnitsky, it’s kind of a letdown, since he and everyone else collectively play one big straight man against Miley. While the whole thing never quite clicks, Kenan Thompson is a hoot as Miley’s similarly anachronistic friend, Nasty Jack.
Hilary Clinton Bar Talk
This is the sketch everyone will be talking about. They would have been talking about it anyway, even if all there were to say was just that Hilary Clinton appeared on SNL at all. The fact of the matter, though, is that she killed it, and Kate McKinnon continues to kill it in her impression of the democratic presidential candidate. Having the actual Hilary as a bartender serving Kate McKinnon’s Hilary scalding hot vodka pulled off the neat trick of SNL pointing out some of Clinton’s contradictions to Clinton—and it enabled McKinnon, who is gay, to stick it to her for not coming around on gay marriage sooner. For her part, Clinton had so many great line reads, and a decent Trump impression; she must have practiced for this like she does for presidential debates. Admittedly, it felt a little weird, how pro-Clinton the Weekend Update jokes were last night, considering that this sketch also aired, giving the episode the momentary stench of a campaign ad. But as far as calculated likability boosters go, this sketch was pretty incredible.
I’m an SNL defender. I cut it more slack than I perhaps should in my role as recapper, even though I occasionally administer serious smackdowns. So maybe I’m a bit biased, but I truly enjoy the way Colin Jost and Michael Che have come to play off each other. The best example in last night’s edition was clearly when Jost went for the blackface joke in reference to Burger King’s weird Halloween burger. “I begged you not to do that,” Che says after about 10 whole seconds of shaking his head. There is chemistry here.
Kyle Mooney’s Pope Francis traffics in hip, up-to-the-minute slang with an old world Italian accent, and once you get that this is the joke, there’s no other “there” there. It’s fun to hear this Pope describe a Hawaiian pizza, though, and use the phrase “so scrumpsch,” but not so much that it redeemed the bit altogether.
At soon as the Weekend Update theme kicked in, I was chanting “Pete Davidson desk piece” out loud, like a weirdo. Not only did we get a Davidson desk piece, but a true banger at that. “I try to pay attention to the news, but then they’re like ‘The senate’ and I’m out” is such a bravely realistic way to describe the eat-your-vegetables feel of paying attention to politics in a world overrun by pop culture. Also, the comparison between Trump and Sanjaya could not be any more on point, and neither could the idea that America should stop doing things because they’re funny, in general.
Finally, the ongoing one-sided flirtation between Leslie Jones and Colin Jost reached a fever pitch in the intro to her latest Update appearance. Jost mentions that Jones spent her summer filming Ghostbusters, setting her up to say things like, “I wish I’d been Jost-busting,” and in a moment that made me laugh for about two minutes, “I ain’t ‘fraid of no Jost.” The rest of her bit about booty text protocol was funny too, but the look on her face during those Ghostbusters lines is pure GIF-manna from heaven.
Those wacky millennials: always with the cell phones and self-obsession. Do you know who else uses cellphones a lot and is self-obsessed? Um, everyone. That tired, incorrect insight cannot be the entire joke of a sketch, yet it is in this misfire. The “new workplace drama from Fox” needed to be grounded in something, like a satire of a specific show, but geared toward millennials, rather than just a free-flowing diss track. The “I Can’t” sketch from last season’s Dakota Johnson episode was way better, making roughly the same point without being so direct and HuffPo thinkpiece about it. Sliver lining: the Variety pull-quote, “I met the cast and they were even more annoying than the characters they play,” was a solid gag.
Interestingly, just at the point in the show when it started feeling slightly odd that there weren’t more Miley-centric sketches, we get a full-on Leslie Jones showcase. When it’s Jones’s turn to imitate the fake orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally, we get a window into her bizarre sex life. Let’s face it: this thing went right off the rails. However, the choices the writers made in Jones’s initial sex talk had such a casual ring to them, it was almost a shame to see how heightened it all became. “Oh, God—this is good, dude,” she says at first. “Good pumps—fantastic.” I love imagining the kind of person who would say that in bed.
Nobody needs me to tell them that this digital short was great. Considering that it follows an entire summer’s breathless accounts of Taylor Swift’s squad (you know, the one that inspired all those goals?) and that it’s a fitting bookend to last year’s classic Swiftamine sketch, and that the production team went all in as usual—everybody already knows this sketch was great. Now, if anybody needs me, I’ll be lying out on matching American flag towels with my friends, possibly during some kind of taco night situation.
Leslie Jones’s second showcase of the night seems to be directly inspired by the blowback from that Vanity Fair cover with all the men of late night talk show. The idea of Ruby Nichols is: What if all the pioneering work Joan Rivers did in the field of comedy was done by a woman of color instead? Ultimately, it feels like an idea that must have been funnier in theory than in execution. Somehow, Miley Cyrus’s best performance of the night is probably her role here as Hayley Mills, the consummate 1960s white person.
Miley Wedding Tape
This continuation of the previous Good Neighbor sketch involving Miley Cyrus, Miley Sex Tape, improves upon its predecessor while still keeping the essential formula. Kyle Money is caught mid-nuptials with Miley Cyrus by Beck Bennett and Bobby Moynihan. Mooney deflects their happiness for him by explaining why marrying Miley Cyrus sounds like the coolest thing that could happen to a person, but in an exasperated tone that suggests the opposite. It’s the same joke as the original sketch… at first. Making Miley a time lord this time expands the possibilities and evolves the concept into a new realm. Considering the host might not have gotten to do as much memorable work last night as she’d have liked, at least the episode ends with viewers wishing they were unstuck in time with Miley forever.