by Julian Spivey
The 41st season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” hosted by pop music sensation Miley Cyrus was better than expected, which for today’s era of the show is actually a huge compliment.
‘SNL’ has a great cast, for the most part, at the current time, but the show’s writing has been extremely poor over the last couple of seasons. When the cast gets the time to shine and the show doesn’t spend too much time worrying about the amount of screen time the host gets it’s typically better off. I felt this to be the case with the premiere as Cyrus wasn’t shoved down our throats nearly as much as I figured she would be. She didn’t have any highlights whatsoever from her hosting stint on Saturday night and that didn’t hurt the show one bit – it likely improved it.
The show kicked off its fifth decade on television with something that every single human on this planet could see coming for weeks, Donald Trump. Taran Killam, who’s basically considered the show’s MVP at the moment (although I’d argue it’s Kate McKinnon), debuted his Trump impression and despite seeming to be a hit amongst the Twitter crowd he left me wanting more. Killam’s Trump wasn’t the worst I’ve seen by any means, but it’s bothersome considering ‘SNL’ has a much better Trump on staff with Darrell Hammond as the show’s announcer. Hammond does the best Trump I’ve ever seen, whereas Killam’s isn’t even the best on NBC right now (Jimmy Fallon is better on “The Tonight Show”). This is a problem considering we might have a Trump bit on the show every week from now until the 2016 Presidential election. This seems like a case of ‘SNL’ wanting to give “the guy” the shot at becoming an even bigger star, when Hammond obviously should’ve taken the reigns. Sure, he’s not a cast member anymore, but he’s there and has multiple times (including Saturday’s premiere) reprised his terrific impression of Bill Clinton, so why not Trump also?.
Let’s get to the best sketch of the night … Kate McKinnon doing her great Hilary Clinton impression right in front of the real life Hilary Clinton, who played a bartender listening to the fake Hilary’s woes about people finding her boring and the hoopla surrounding Trump amongst other things. McKinnon is the game-changer right now on ‘SNL’ and her impression of Hilary will likely send her into even further stardom. It’s great, as is, but doing it right there in front of the real thing and having the ability to play it straight could prove to be the greatest thing we see on ‘SNL’ all season long. I’ll go ahead and pencil this one on my annual ’10 Best SNL Sketches of the Season’ list right now. What was truly surprising about the bit was how game the real Hilary Clinton was for the entire thing, including sly smacks at her taking a long time to jump on the gay marriage bandwagon. It was also amazing the real Hilary kept a straight face throughout the entire sketch. Another excellent bit of the sketch was Hammond’s reprisal of Bill Clinton, especially the line about Hilary multiplying before running out in terror.
Weekend Update is always going to be the centerpiece of ‘SNL’ and because of this one of the most talked about aspects of the show. The camaraderie between co-anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che continues to improve with each episode, but the premiere’s version of Update was hit and miss. Some of the jokes were excellent like Jost’s blackface for Halloween joke, but others were incredibly off-topic like the weird slap at Garth Brooks. Who really hates Garth Brooks that much? The Update guests were hit and miss too, but mostly misses this week, especially Kyle Mooney’s frat boy take on Pope Francis. Mooney has the ability to surpass Kristen Wiig as my least favorite ‘SNL’ cast member of all-time and every time I see him on the screen I cringe. Pete Davidson is the show’s most popular Update correspondent, but I always seem to find him hit or miss despite much of the country seemingly loving him. Sometimes he’s too immature for my liking, which really wasn’t the case this week, I just didn’t particularly find his take on things like Donald Trump funny. Leslie Jones, on the other hand, is one of my favorite Update correspondents (despite much of the country seemingly disliking her). She does roughly the same sort of comedy every time she’s on the show –
angry black woman with relationship trouble – but thus far I have not grown tired of it.
Speaking of Jones, she really carried two sketches directly after Weekend Update that could’ve easily been horrible without her – the fake orgasm sketch in honor of “When Harry Met Sally” and the bit about a black talk show host in the 1950s.
Another of the night’s best bits came during the latter half of the episode when the show took on the ludicrousness of Taylor Swift’s Squad phenomenon with Vanessa Bayer (possibly the show’s most underrated and often underused cast member) and Aidy Bryant playing friends who are running from being forced into Swift’s Squad that has taken over the world. It was a really fun take on sort of the stupid fascination our culture has with celebrity.
‘SNL’ is frequently hit or miss with its commercial parodies, as well, but the first one of the season was one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite some time. The commercial pimped a pill called Abilify that made delusional Presidential candidates like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Jim Gilmore come back down to earth and realize they don’t have a shot in hell at winning the Presidency.
The problem with ‘SNL’ having a large cast right now is we run into the issue of not giving everybody enough screen time on a weekly basis. This is a main complaint of mine every week and this week, as in most weeks, I would’ve loved to have seen more Bobby Moynihan, Jay Pharoah, Vanessa Bayer, Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata (who at times it’s easy to forget is even on the show).
Ultimately, the season premiere wasn’t a home run – but when is ‘SNL’ that great anymore? It was a good, solid start to the season that hopefully will get even better, but that’s asking a lot these days.