Say what you will about Miley Cyrus, but you’ve got to admit a few things: One, the girl clearly has a healthy sense of humor. And two, when she’s not distracting you with foam fingers and errant tongues and several square inches of bare skin, it’s a lot easier to appreciate how good her singing voice really is. (See also: Her cover of godmother Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” posted on YouTube just nine months ago.)
Both of Miley’s strong suits were on full display last night, making for an SNL totally worth staying up late for. Like, really late; the show’s live feed was delayed 27 minutes due to a college football game that just couldn’t stop. (Actually, maybe not that late after all — in true SNL fashion, the post-“Weekend Update” material was pretty weak.)
Miley didn’t quite prove herself a tour-de-force like Justin Timberlake, the last host-slash-musical-guest to come before her — but she was miles ahead of the guy who pulled double duty the month before Timberlake did. Anyone hoping for Sinead O’Connor digs must be disappointed. Everyone else should be pleased by Miley’s showing — specifically, her work in two straight-up great sketches:
From the first shot of John Boehner snapping in a gold grill to the last image of Michele Bachman groping the Speaker over his mesh bra top, SNL‘s near shot-for-shot remake of Cyrus’s surreal “We Can’t Stop” video — remade as a celebration of the government shutdown — was damn near flawless. Before you check it out (again or for the first time), try rewatching the original. It’ll make you fully appreciate how brilliantly this short twists that clip’s bizarre imagery, from its french fry White House to elephant bleeding Pepto Bismol to the smoke radiating from Uncle Sam’s crotch. There’s also a gratuitous Taran Killam butt shot. Oh, and the parody’s lyrics aren’t bad either. (Best part: “And everyone in line for early childcare/Anyone who planned to see a grizzly bear/We are all shut down here…”)
An inspired cold open that efficiently addressed Cyrus’s controversial VMAs performance, leaving the rest of the show free to cover other things. Even the frame device is clever: In a flash-forward to the year 2045, Kenan Thompson informs us that Miley’s twerking did, in fact, catalyze America’s downfall. (For once, the PTC was right!) We learn also that the crisis could have been avoided if Cyrus had only listened to a very special messenger — her past self, played by Vanessa Bayer in her old “Miley Cyrus Show” wig. It’s tough to pick a favorite part — Bayer and Cyrus reciting what Miley says every single morning? Bobby Moynihan as a disgruntled teddy bear, shouting, “We shouldn’t be doing this”? Bayer presenting her counterpart with a very special gift: “Molly, the American Girl doll you keep singing about”? If only every episode started out this strongly.
Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri set the bar pretty high for SNL cheerleader sketches. So when an imitator suffers from weak material and technical snafus — visible wire rope, delayed camera cuts, a wandering spotlight, a crew member accidentally caught on camera — the only possible result is disaster. (Not to mention Cyrus’s head cheertator was apparently named both Amber and Dina.) I did, however, laugh at Alien Kenan’s explanation for why he was kidnapping Miley’s cheer squad: “We need your moon. Our moon exploded.” Dishonorable mentions: The poetry class sketch and “Mornin’ Miami,” both of which were more puzzling than outright bad. Fine; Poetry Class was pretty darn bad.
Best Musical Moment
Calling it now: “Wrecking Ball” is the next power ballad you’ll add to your karaoke repertoire. And Cyrus really sang the hell out of it last night, rejecting visual theatrics (and nudity) for pure vocal force. It certainly outranks her acoustic rendition of “We Can’t Stop,” which was well-sung but gratuitous; why feature the same song twice in one episode?
Biggest Reason to Miss Bill Hader
That Fifty Shades of Grey audition reel, which would have been a thousand percent more awesome if it had included Hader’s Alan Alda reading for Christian Grey. That said, both Killam’s Christoph Waltz and Nasim Pedrad’s Aziz Ansari made this pretaped sketch worth it. Less successful: Cyrus’s take on Scarlett Johansson, who sounded more like a transvestite on a Chuck Lorre sitcom.
The WTF Award
A pretaped sketch revolving entirely around new cast member Kyle Mooney, who just can’t decide whether he should sleep with an eager, accomodating Cyrus. The joke: Of course he should sleep with Miley! Wait a minute — that’s barely a joke at all!
Between her Miley impression and a return appearance by Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Vanessa Bayer had a pretty good night; too bad she also yelped her way through Poetry Class. Instead, I’ll go with one of the cast’s rising stars: Kate McKinnon, who elevated a rote Piers Morgan sketch with her Heisenbergian Hillary Clinton and killed on “Update” as a suburban mom who just can’t get enough of Grand Theft Auto V. (“I shot a stripper in the boob for sport!”)
Single Best Line
Courtesy of Cyrus’s brief monologue: “I’m not gonna do Hannah Montana. But I will give you an update on what she’s been up to: She was murdered.”
– “That was how America ended. Canada did great, though. Turns out that Prime Minister Bieber was a fair and generous ruler.”
– The man waving a giant foam hand in SNL‘s audience last night was not actually the inventor of the foam finger. The real guy’s name is Steve Chmelar, and he looks like this.
– Is Noel Wells’s Emma Stone impression just her Zooey Deschanel with red hair?
– Aidy Bryant had a lot more screen time than usual tonight; good for her! I continue to like “Girlfriends Talk Show,” even if its formula has grown especially predictable.
– Serious question: Is Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy even remotely funny to you if you’re not Jewish? Because if you are Jewish, he’s hilarious.
– “I’m Piers Morgan, and if I was on a cartoon, I would be the voice of a fancy hedgehog.”
– Ron Burgundy’s doing car commercials now. Huh!
You simply must learn to form an opinion about Miley — say, in the comments below. Thoughts on her as host, and SNL last night in general?