'Saturday Night Live' recap: Bryan Cranston and the case of the disappearing host

When Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle) bounced down the steps and into a clever musical monologue on last night’s Saturday Night Live, it seemed like we were in for a heck of a show. Crooning in front of a barbershop quartet, the Emmy winner had the guts and good humor to go straight for the elephant in the room: Most people don’t have a clue who he is. So he sang a sly, self-deprecating song about his own name, showing off a pretty nice voice along the way. Not a bad way to start.

And then, he disappeared.

Or at least, that’s what it seemed like. Cranston spent the rest of the show on the sidelines, throwing on a funny costume or two while he let the regular cast members take center stage. He didn’t steal the spotlight in a single sketch and was a full-on absentee for a few, including the digital short. (What, no Breaking Bad parody?) After such a promising start, the rest of the night was essentially a slow let-down — though not without a few high points.

The first came early on. Following a medium-funny fauxmercial for a Pepto-Bismol malt liquor, we got a killer new sketch called The Miley Cyrus Show, starring newcomer Vanessa Bayer as a dimwitted version of the pop starlet. Everything about her impersonation was flat-out funny, from the gummy smile to the raspy voice to her hysterical take on Cyrus’ bubbly OMG-speak. Cranston got some giggles with a few lines as Miley’s dad, Billy Ray, but it was another newbie, Paul Brittain, who pushed the bit to even bigger laughs with an a spot-on impression of Johnny Depp. Anybody else want to see this one go into regular rotation?

Next came a standard edition of the SNL stand-by What Up with That?, featuring guest appearances by Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, and Cranston in his underwear. Cute enough, but how many more times can they fall back on this one? And as for the next bit — the one with Cranston as a basketball team coach — there’s really only one thing to say: Thank heaven for Kristen Wiig. The vet played vampy bombshell Shanna who gets the team’s blood racing with her sexy-gross antics; nobody outdoes Wiig when it comes to go-for-broke gags like an endless belch and a fart-powered whistle.

Next came a ho-hum digital short (with a too-brief Helen Mirren cameo), followed by the night’s first musical act. I’ll leave it to my pals over on EW‘s Music Mix blog to give a full analysis of Kanye’s performance, but personally, I think he nailed it. Extra points for turning the all too familiar SNL stage into something uniquely his own.

After a decent Weekend Update (with a boost from Andy Samberg’s reliably funny Cathy act), Cranston got his splashiest part of the evening as the overly affectionate host of a children’s game show. He did a fine job — though most of the skit’s laughs came from Samberg and Kenan Thompson as two of the kid contestants. Then came a few more underwhelming sketches (including a real dud with Cranston and Fred Armisen as tiresome sibling singers), and suddenly our host was waving goodbye as the show came to a close. What? Already? Bryan, we hardly knew ye.

What did you think, PopWatchers? Was Cranston criminally underused? Should he get another shot at hosting to show us what he can really do? And would you watch another round of The Miley Cyrus Show?

Comments (263 total) Add your comment
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  • David D

    Just awful. Any of Cranston’s parts could have been played by anyone else… “Miley Cyrus” was okay, but I think they were hitting the “let’s invent an irresistible catchphrase” way too hard with “rilly cool”… and once again, Kenan Thompson demonstrates that he has only one character voice, whether it’s Charles Barkley, the “Scared Straight” guy, and now a ten-year-old girl.

    • amj

      I agree, Bryan Cranston was fantastic and very brave! His willingness to self-depricate is fantastic and very funny. I would love to see him on SNL again. I loved it! And, I personally thought this week’s episode of What’s Up With That was the best in a long time. Very funny. The dancing running suit guy cracks me up every time. I did really like the spot with Miley Cyrus only problem is that Bryan did such a great job who would play Billy Ray in the future. The game show bit was pretty funny. Creepy but funny. And, I have to say both the commercial and the digital short got me laughing for sure. I am already way more pleased with SNL this year than last. Great start!

      • Ncdrew

        I think Bryan Cranston did a great job with the material he was given but that was in short supply. Loved him as Billy Ray and the entire Miley sketch was very funny but could get old if they try and make this a regular segment. Love Jason Sudeikis’ crazy dancing in What Up Wit Dat and liked Cranston dancing in his underwear for it, but thought the entire basketball sketch was stupid and Kriten Wiig is beyond annoying. Didn’t find the game show skit funny. That sort of thing has been done much better before. The singing bit with Fred Armisen was lame. So many of the sketches could be funny if done as just short bits but so many of these go on too long and the joke evaporates!

      • waggyd1

        I agree that Kristen Wiig has got to go – she is no where near as funny as former SNL ladies and she is really annoying. As for Abby, I like her and they need someone cute who is funny. But Kanye should never come back – he was the worst!

    • Lacey

      Awful isn’t an inaccurate descriptor of that show. The Cyrus gag and the Kristen wiig skit(the only time I’ve found her found in years) were very funny, but the rest of the show was crap. Cranston didn’t do a bad job but he was given very little with which to work. Please, for the love of god, get rid of Keenan. He’s just awful.

      • Tracy

        Yes, for the love of god, get rid of Keenan! I cringe whenever I see him in a skit.

      • jenn

        No way!! I love Keenan. What’s not to like?

      • tracy bluth

        Keenan’s good when he’s not being forced to play every black celebrity (although I did enjoy his Tracy Chapman).

      • Julie

        “Awful” sounds extreme to me, but I agree that this was the first time Kristen Wiig has been funny in years. Not only that, but she wasn’t in nearly every skit. That’s a major improvement! However, what is up with this recapper? He thinks there wasn’t enough Helen Mirren?! Really?! Did he forget this was Saturday Night Live? And he thinks Samberg’s Cathy is funny? Only if by “funny” you mean unbelievably lame, tired, and irritating. Also, the only thing Kanye nailed was the last unsecured spot on his coffin. Bring back Ken Tucker, please.

    • Dabis Warry

      Kristin Wiig is the Kristin Wiig.

    • TMB

      Great call, David. It reminded me of the old ‘TV Funhouse’ sketch featuring Lorne Michaels discussing the life of an SNL catch-phrase. Last night’s sketch truly demonstrated how desperate the show is to try and find a new one.

    • Jacob

      I am the Kristin Wiig.

    • darclyte

      It was “pretty cool” (or kewl as she pronounced it) not “rilly cool.”

      • David D

        Okay, then can I be the one to turn “rilly kewl” into an overused catchphrase? :)

    • Sean

      Abby Elliot’s uncle is a producer on SNL. She’s never getting kicked out despite only being capable of playing pouty girl in background.

    • joe

      Agreed. It was terrible. I was so disappointed, because I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad and think Cranston is great.

      Why do they keep doing the “What Up With That?” sketch? Really, am I missing something? “Ooooooh, WHEEE. What Up Wit Dat? What Up Wit Dat?” 38 times in a row, and it’s over? What is funny about that? Kenan Thompson is probably one of the least funny SNL cast members of all time.

      I had to fast forward through the aging rock stars sketch. Then the game show sketch where the big joke was that he kept kissing the kids? Wow, HILARIOUS.

      The only good parts were Miley Cyrus and the Kristen Wiig Shanna sketch (although even that went on and on a bit too long).

      Loved Amy Poehler episode and was hoping Bryan Cranston would be just as good. To me, it was as bad as Gabby Sidibe’s episode.

      • CirceNYC

        I never liked the What’s Up with That sketch until this episode – Morgan Freeman’s WTF expression and Ernest Bornine’s I’m-just-happy-to-be-here grin made it for me. Also love track suit man in the background.

    • LOL

      “Shanna” sucks.

      • JonG

        Thank you, one of many recurring awful SNL skits.

    • Jay

      they are not trying to invent a catchphrase nimrod. it’s an impersonation of miley cyrus and she actually says that. and btw, what was the last catchphrase to come out of SNL?

      • Naepustus

        The last catchphrase to come out of SNL is: “Live from the NBC studios, it’s saturday night”

    • annie

      Kristen Wiig must go, retire her now. She is annoying and all her characters are the same. Absolutely not funny.

    • Funnier than Poehler

      This episode was up there with the Betty White hosting – every sketch was pretty fun I must say..even funnier than the Amy Poehler hosting – lot of promise but didnt deliver – had to admit that song “I bought you a bottle of sparkling apple juice..did you get it?” at first was nah..but it had me singing by the end..very catchy ..Bryan did a fantastic job

  • javi

    the show last night was good the sketch with kristen wig was too hillarious and the miley cyrus show was funny vanessa bayer was good and funny hope they use her in more sketches what up with that sketch was hllarious too with ernest borgnine and morgan freeman the digital short was funny with the police dog or super dog and yes i hope they do another miley cyrus show sketches the show was good last night.

    • Nancy

      no punctuation – very clever !

  • Mcfly

    I wish they would just retire the “What’s Up With That” sketch. It was never funny. Every time they do it, it’s exactly the same. Did like the spot on Miley Cyrus bit.

    • Mads

      Word. I skip it every time. Seriously, not funny. I loved the Miley Cyrus, great impression. Wiig was hilarious in the sexy sketch. I was crying when she was mixing the protein shake.

    • rockatansky

      Thank you! What a waste to have Morgan AND Ernest up there … if they do it, at least change it up a bit and get the guest angry or dancing … or something!

    • vja

      I’m with you Mcfly …

    • Molly

      I’ll second that. It’s what made me change the channel. The Miley bit was hysterical and dead-on. It’s a keeper!

    • Izzie’s Mom

      I LOVE the Whats up with that sketch and look forward to it.

    • theBigE

      Sorry, I disagree, I’m also in the LOVE “What’s up with that” column. I wish that was a real half-hour long show. I’d watch it regularly!

    • pastafarian

      What’s Up with That is Great, but I guess it’s a divisive issue. I liked this week’s a lot, mostly cuz Keenan was straining to keep from singing/interrupting when Morgan Freeman had something genuinely important to say. I think that’s the longest he’s ever held out.

    • Kim

      What was least funny about the skit was having poor Ernest Borgnine up there. He obviously didn’t really know what was going on. Were they hoping for a Betty White moment? And Kanye? Can he be any more pretentious?!

    • wkrp

      How sad to see two Oscar winners as nothing more than scenery — but I guess Morgan Freeman (and Helen Mirren) does have a movie coming out.

      • dacky1

        make that 3 Oscar winners- remember Marty?

  • dee123

    When a parody of Miley Cyrus is the highlight, you know the show is in trouble.

    • Maureen

      I thought the Miley show was kinda funny! The impression was pretty spot on. ;)

    • helenwiells

      You are SO right…the other odd thing was SNL has a policy that impersonators don’t look so much like the person they’re imitating that it’s hard to tell them apart…this girl looked almost TOO much like Miley Cyrus~!

      • ckcgye

        and Tina Fey as Palin? Except for the mouth, the new person doesn’t look like Miley, but she did a great job!

      • pastafarian

        Miley is all Mouth, what else did the parody need?

    • Dabis Warry

      Why? What would be a good highlight that DIDN’T mean the show was in trouble? It’s SNL. More than half of its material is and has been about pop culture.

    • Chaz Winterbottom

      I could be wrong but Miley Cyrus jokes in 2010 feel a little past their expiration date. It seemed like that sketch should been aired two years ago.

  • Chelsea

    I thought the digital short was the funniest one Samberg has done in ages. It actually got a real laugh out of me. Or maybe dogs in capes are always funny.

    • amj

      I hear ya, made me laugh!

  • Dino

    Adam doesn’t seem to know that Shanna is a recurring character (if memory serves, this is her third appearance). Also,that was no barbershop quartet. The opening musical number was right out of “Citizen Kane” (“The Simpsons” did this but more than a decade ago).

  • JD

    “Johnny Depp” was spot on

    • Kim

      Yeah…had to look twice to be sure it wasn’t really him! They could have some fun with that one…especially if one of the other cast members can do Tim Burton…hey…a Johnny and Tim sitcom or talk show skit could be funny. Hey, SNL..call me!

  • Dino

    Adam doesn’t seem to know that Shanna is a recurring character. If memory serves, this is her third appearance. And that was no barbershop quartet. The opening musical number was right out of “Citizen Kane” (“The Simpsons” did this bit more than a decade ago)

  • Raweezy

    Kanye was the best part of the show, by far the dopest MC, cant wait for Dark Twisted Fantasy to drop

    • Devin Faraci

      Kanye is a no talent ass clown. Entertainment for morons.

      • Ryan

        Is Kanye an ass clown? Yes. “No talent”, though? Listen to 808′s and Heartbreak or Graduation again and get back to me. Oh and also, you’re retarded. Have a good one.

      • Rudewaitress

        Devin- 1; Ryan- 0…but it’s all subjective I guess. Depends on how you fall for the crap they shove down your throats as entertainment. SNL lost their edge many years ago but I did get a kick out of the Miley Cyrus sketch. Maybe they can get the nads to do the same with one of these rap acts. The best thing that show can do to improve would be to go to an hour long format and concentrate more on writing better scripts.

    • T

      I totally agree with you. Kanye always was and always will be one of the greatest hip hop artists of our time. But either you love him or you hate him and which ever way you fall, you can’t convince someone with a different opinion otherwise.

    • graeme

      Amazing performance by Kanye. And Kristen Wiig was absolutely hilarious as Shanna.

      • LOL

        Your taste is in your a$$.

  • Lisa

    AWFUL. proof that last week was only good because of all the returning vets. I did not laugh once and thought the Miley sketch was silly. Agree with David, every character Keenan plays is the same. Even reliably good weekend update wasn’t funny – and you could tell Seth knew it. Come on SNL!! And FYI, Kristen Wigg’s character was not new — she dis it with Jon Hamm and someone else, don’t remember who tho.

    • Jamie

      I think it was Charles Barkley that she did it with.

    • Matt

      With John Malkovich

  • Elvis Pudding

    Saturday Night Live is still on?

  • Jon

    The Miley Cyrus Sketch was funny, but in large part because they didn’t depart very far from how she is on talk shows. The character may have Ben slightly more clueless than Cyrus appears to be, but they seemed to actually tone down her verbal ticks and mannerisms compared to how she acts on talk shows.
    .
    When the parody isn’t as outrageous as the reality, there is a problem.

    • Shannon

      Yeah, good point. I enjoyed the skit, but it was a bit of a watered-down Miley.
      Impressions are usually based on exaggeration, not downplay.
      It lacked edge.
      Amy Poehler had something authentic with her Dakota Fanning Show, which was sadly missing from her hosting gig last week, even though they tried to cram just about everything else into the episode.

  • jblippman

    Sad, sad show. SNL short was ok. Weekend Update has a few chuckles. Bryan Cranston is brilliant and was completely wasted. Seems they put everything they had into the season premiere and had nothing left for this week’s show.

  • cici217

    The show has reverted back to being mostly lame and hardly watchable. Whats Up With That is NOT funny SNL. Get rid of it.
    Maybe SNL should air only twice a month providing an additional week for new writers to actually construct something funny.

    • David D

      Hey, they had all summer and came up with “Sparkling Apple Juice”?

      • Jenni

        Seriously, wth was that?

      • amj

        My husband and I laughed pretty hard over the sparkling apple juice and actually sung it around the house on the commercial break. Seeing Bryan Cranston like that was hilarious. I cannot believe everyone was so down on that bit.

      • sam

        The skit was funny at first, but it went on forever. That is one of the problems with SNL–they are trying to fill time and stretch everything out beyond its humor.

      • ericalina

        i am way in the minority but i can’t get sparkling apple juice out of my head. i loved when they said, “not many people in the crowd tonight…that’s ok, it’s our hometown.”

      • JonG

        I liked “sparkling apple juice” too

  • Connor

    I had to shut it off early. I usually stick through even the bad episodes but it was just such a bore. The same sketches over and over. The ones that beat a dead horse last season are back! Where is the originality. It’s as if the comedy style is the same too. shame that they don’t let the host do much of the work anymore. I think season 36 should be its last.

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