October 4, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Miley Cyrus


SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE had one of the quietest off-seasons in its recent history, with the addition of featured player Jon Rudnitsky as its only major change, so for better and worse, tonight’s Season 41 premiere felt as though it could easily have aired last season.

There were a few indications that time has passed.  Although we’re still 13 months away from the presidential election, the campaign is already in full gear, and that was reflected through the night.  Oddly, the show didn’t use its not-at-all-a-surprise appearance of Hillary Clinton for the cold open, holding that for the end of its first half-hour.  Instead, the cold open introduced Taran Killam as SNL‘s new Donald Trump.  Killam had practiced the mannerisms and facial expressions, especially the sudden scowl, but he’s not yet hitting it like Darrell Hammond’s classic turn as The Donald did (Hammond, who’s now the show announcer, briefly reprised his Bill Clinton in the Hillary sketch), and even though Trump jokes are the definition of low-hanging comedy fruit, it was Cecily Strong, as Trump’s Eastern European wife, who got most of the laughs.

The Hillary Clinton skit, when it finally appeared, was as mild as one would expect from an approved piece of comedy, with gentle gibes at her slowness to oppose the Keystone pipeline and support same-sex marriage, but mostly an arena for her to demonstrate her goodnatured sense of humor in a meta bit that had her as a bartender serving drinks to Kate McKinnon as Hillary.  (Her best moment was a brief Trump imitation that stood up quite well to Killam’s.)  The candidate, no doubt thrilled to have some time with a young, politically-minded audience, hung around for a few minutes afterward to introduce host/musical guest Miley Cyrus’s first song.

Politics also showed up in one of the show’s better bits, a fake commercial for a pill that allowed Republican candidates with no chance at the nomination to finally realize how deluded they were.  And of course there was Weekend Update, which felt badly rusted after the summer off.  Colin Jost and Michael Che, who had finally started to get a rhythm going late last season, were a beat off, and the writing was worse.  The desk pieces started with a thuddingly unfunny bit portraying the Pope as a party animal during his recent US visit.  Pete Davidson followed with a routine about Trump being such a scary prospect that even Pete might have to vote, much as he did when Sanjaya seemed like he might have a chance of winning American Idol, which could have used one more rewrite before facing the cameras.  Leslie Jones, though, brought Update home with her segment about texts from a potential boyfriend.  (One of the night’s interesting developments was putting Jones more front and center, with major roles in a When Harry Met Sally-inspired fake orgasm sketch, and also as TV’s supposed first black female talk show host in the 1950s.)

Even though Miley Cyrus has been a comedy performer for as long as she’s been in the public eye, and has hosted SNL twice before, the show gave her disappointingly little to do.  The funny monologue segment only had her singing “My Way” while the other cast members portrayed the disturbing figures of the past summer like Kim Jones, Jared Fogle and the dentist who shot the lion in Africa.  Cyrus was given a star role in a Grease-ish musical piece where she twerked and offered a threesome (with Kenan Thompson, not seen much the rest of the night) while the other high schoolers around her were doing sock-hop songs.  After that, though, she was merely a background character in most of what followed, including in “The Millennials,” a mock-“those kids and their darn social media” soap that seemed aimed at becoming a franchise sketch.

The pre-tapes were highlighted by the Republican pill commercial, and also included a post-apocalyptic piece in which all of civilization disappeared to join Taylor Swift’s “Squad” (more impressive visually than comically), and a surreal 12:45AM bit in which Kyle Mooney bewailed a marriage with Cyrus that would make him happy, and that carried him through the course of his life even as he complained about it.

We’ll see if SNL has bigger plans for its host next week, when Amy Schumer takes the stage with musical guest The Weeknd.  As for tonight, there was nothing on view to change anyone’s mind from their opinion of the series last season.  After 41 years, Lorne Michaels is opting for stability.

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."