October 6, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with Miley Cyrus


Lorne Michaels has never been happy when primetime overruns push the start time of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and he must like it even less in the DVR era, when many people on the East Coast will miss the last 27 minutes of tonight’s episode forever.  But that’s the cost of airing college football on Saturday nights…

It Girl/Bad Girl Miley Cyrus was both host and musical guest tonight, and whatever one might want to say about her as a cultural phenomenon, she enthusiastically and capably delivered everything SNL asked of her.  There were, naturally, many callbacks to twerking and the VMAs, although interestingly not even a mention of this week’s war with Sinead O’Connor, herself a classic SNL Bad Girl.  The best Miley-centric piece was the pretaped “We Did Stop,” which restaged her hit “We Won’t Stop” video to feature John Boehner (the suddenly very busy Taran Killam) and Michelle Bachman (Cyrus) in the saga of the Republican government shutdown.  A clever idea, beautifully executed.  (Best beat:  Jay Pharoah’s Obama staring shocked at the Tea Party orgy from behind a curtain.)

It was unclear why the show gave Cyrus the shortest monologue in memory:  a Hannah Montana gag, a glimpse of Bobby Moynihan “naked” on a wrecking ball, and out.  She certainly seemed more able than most hosts to handle cue cards and heavy dialogue, so it wasn’t likely that SNL didn’t trust her to do more.  Perhaps it was because she had played a major role in the cold open, unusual for a host.  This was the actual VMA parody (her twerking caused the apocalypse), with Killam again as Robin Thicke and Pharoah as Will Smith.

Cyrus wasn’t officially playing herself in the return of the “Girlfriends” teen talk show with Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant, but as Strong’s new hip-hop buddy (yes, she twerks), she was essentially Miley Cyrus with a wig.  The sketch itself was your basic SNL let’s-repeat-all-the-same-beats franchise sketch, with Bryant fuming that Strong was neglecting her for a cooler BFF.

The second week of the Seth Meyers/Strong Weekend Update, while endless (three guests!), was noticeably smoother than last week, with Strong able to play along with Meyers in the “Winners/Losers” segment, and dropping most of the “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Talked To” mannerisms.  Kate McKinnon was hilarious as a Connecticut housewife who’d become a marauding “Grand Theft Auto” videogame player (“I am Lester Crest and I eat cocaine for breakfast!“), and Jay Pharoah contributed an all-out Shannon Sharpe.  Vanessa Bayer’s “Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy” is another do-the-exact-same-thing-again bit, and it’s passed its shelf life for me, although Jacob’s utter inability to deal with the idea of Strong as co-anchor was fun.

A 50 Shades of Grey Screen Test sketch had some inspired bits (Killam’s Christoph Waltz, McKinnon’s Jane Lynch and Tilda Swinton) and some not so much (Noel Wells’s Kristen Stewart).  And couldn’t Bryant handle Rebel Wilson’s accent?  It was weird that all she got to say was “Yeah.”  A piece about Hilary Rodham Clinton miniseries wasted Nasim Pedrad’s Arianna Huffington and didn’t do much with the idea of Hilary as Walter White.  (Newcomer Beck Bennett’s Bill Clinton was weak compared to SNL Clintons of the past.)

The last half-hour, which didn’t air until 1AM due to the football overrun, started poorly with a flat sketch about cheerleaders abducted by aliens, and improved just a little bit with a repetition piece where the hosts of a morning news show perked up when it was time to do promos, then became glum and hostile when the cameras were off.  A late-show sketch in a poetry class was mostly interesting because Vanessa Bayer played a character who seemed to have been written with Kristen Wiig in mind, complete with muttering after each line.  Cyrus appeared in all of these, a heavy workload considering that she also had two musical numbers to do, and whatever the script weaknesses may have been, she was fine in all of them, especially as an incipient-lesbian student in the poetry class.

The 12:55AM (i.e., 1:25AM) spot went to a pre-taped piece with new cast member Kyle Mooney unable to accept Cyrus’s offerings of sex and tickets to every concert everywhere until after she’d moved on to his brother (Killam).

A decent episode, all in all, without much in the way of super-highs, but also very little that was painful to watch.  Cyrus more than pulled her weight.  Next week’s host is Bruce Willis, a bit odd because he doesn’t have a new movie opening.  His musical guest is Katy Perry.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."