The Lionize Podcast - SNL review

SNL season 41 episode 1

Posted on Posted in Pop Culture, Television

by Arturo V. Leon II

Saturday Night Live “Miley Cyrus” [41.1] | C-

When the 41st season premier was on point it was great comedy TV, when it was flat it was the same cringe TV that SNL fans have been watching for a few seasons now. After the departure of Fred Armisen and Bill Hader in season 38 and Seth Meyers halfway through season 39, SNL has yet to find it’s voice and groove. While it will be the third season for a lot of the repertory players, many of them still feel like rookies who either haven’t quite found their place [Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, & Michael Che – 2nd season], haven’t made it past the background [Sasheer Zamata], or haven’t grown past one note characters [Pete Davidson – 2nd season].  Of the “veterans” Kenan Thompson [13th season], Vanessa Bayer [6 seasons], Taran Killam [6 seasons], Bobby Moynihan [6 seasons], Jay Pharoah [6 seasons], Kate McKinnon [5 seasons], Cecily Strong [4 seasons], Aidy Bryant [4 seasons] most of the cast still feel like a JV group assembled after the core of Armisen, Forte, Hader, Meyers, Poehler, Samberg, Seduekis, & Wiig all moved on. As constant as Killam can be it always feels like he’s stuck playing the handsome guy when deep down there’s a zany character ala Will Ferrell not being let loose. Cecily Strong is a strong actor who brings it every time she is on stage but is often the secondary character and her lead characters often seem a bit over the top [and the stench of her mistreatment of Weekend Update still lingers].

My test for a strong main cast member is this; can a Best of DVD be made of their years at SNL. Of the veteran group in season 41 only one cast member currently passes the test; Ms. Kate McKinnon. As long as Mr. Thompson has been on the show his characters are often impressions which consist of Mr. Thompson dressing as a person and then stating he is that person, few and far between does he have a really great impression i.e. the James Brown sketch from season 40 [I admit after this year, his 13th season, there are probably enough good sketches that can fill a “by default” 90 minute Best of DVD – that’s only 12-18 sketches which averages out to one good sketch every 15-22 episodes he was on] .

The only other player I have not mentioned is Ms. Leslie Jones. A year ago she would have been in a group with Bennett, Moony, and Che – talented players with unique voices that just hadn’t found their place on the show. Ms. Jones is a large personality. She commands the stage when she is on it and with her energy and bravado leads her to swing for the fences every time she has a chance. Last year, this led to some very very public strikeouts. Ms. Jones missed lines, ques, markings, and during the Chris Rock/Prince episode she even retreated from a sketch completely [that episode was pretty good with some solid outings by the host -which is rare- and a wonderful performance by Prince]. Maybe it was being in a major motion picture [Ms. Jones is a Ghostbuster] but from the moment Ms. Jones walked on stage in season 41 something was different. She commanded every sketch she was in, she didn’t miss a beat, line, que, or marking. And with all the ego and male bravado that has filled the annals of SNL it warms my heart that two females, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones, may be ushering in a new type of era of SNL that has been gone since Hader and Wigg used the famed studio 8H in 30 Rock as their personal comedy playground [see the Eras of SNL article].

So…enough with the long intro. Here’s a quick breakdown of last night’s episode:

The Cold Open

The start of a new season so why not start strong; politics during an election cycle, two strong players doing what they do best [Killam doing broad expressions with facial features and Cecily doing an accented female]? Since Trump was the biggest personality of the summer it makes sense to open with him. Not only is he the current face of the GOP by he’s a larger than life personality in NYC and SNL has never shied away from being a homer show. The opener was pretty tame and safe. The best parts were when Cecily as Melania Trump used her misuse of English to make unintended swipes as Donald. Of course, more of what plagues the current run of SNL, the sketch didn’t know when to end which led to an akward, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.”

The monologue

More, “why not start with strengths.” Miley Cyrus gets a song to sing while the cast does their best impressions of characters of summer 2015. The best part was Bobby Moynihan playing Jared Fogle and Josh Duggar simply but turning around and taking off his glasses. This is where I will pine on Bobby Moynihan as the secret of SNL and the most underused gift the show has on its cast. There is a solid argument to be made that Bobby Moynihan is the best Weekend Update character actor on the history of the show.

Also worth noting the guest host, who after several hosting appearances is getting comparisons to another host/musical guest Justin Timerberlake, did not carry one sketch on her own. Lets stop the comparisons as Mr. Timberlake could be a feature player, and a staring one at that, when ever he pleased. He truly is in the same category of host such as Steve Martin, John Goodman, Alec Baldwin, Paul Simmon, Tom Hanks, Chris Walken, and Candice Bergen who make the show better when they host [Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Louis C.K. who are probably close in line as 5 timers who have the same impact as host]. While Ms. Cyrus is convenient as a host since she doubles as the musical guest and garners free publicity, her now 3 times as host have not elevated her to the comparisons she is receiving to Mr. Timberlake.

The sketches

The highlight of the night was Hilary Clinton with SNL MVP Kate McKinnon. Pros of Hilary going far in the nomination is more KcKinnon as Hilary. Cons are Hilary as the Democratic Nominee but that’s another post for another time. Hilary playing a character rather then herself was a great choice for all involved. The line of the night is easily McKinnon’s for chastising Hilary for taking to long to support gay marriage:

Val: Well you did it pretty soon

McKinnon as Hilary: Could have been sooner. [delivered PERFECTLY]

The power of the moment was not lost on the audience as they widely applauded. It seemed the sentiments of a nation were stated as Ms. McKinnon, herself openly gay, faced Hilary with the thoughts a group of frustrated liberals had been having for a while.

The rest of the sketches seemed to be more of the same that we have come to expect from SNL – a lot of nothing memorable.

The Ten-to-One was a perfect piece of odd comedy. The running bit that Miley Cyrus has a thing for Kyle Mooney was perfectly played up to in a weird but fantastical sketch that involved a time traveling Miley Cyrus and a Kyle Mooney who was not ready to settle down.

The best use of a the guest host was for the 50’s dance sketch which finds the odd comedy twist and knew to end the sketch very soon after the twist.

Weekend Update

Oh yeah. I did not mention Colin Jost in my introduction above. It is because I would be willing to run for President of the “Get Colin Jost out of SNL ASAP Club.” His tenure as head writer has been tragic at best and a tragic train wreck at worst.

The reason I suspect the episode did not rise to average or above average was the momentum sucked out of the episode by Weekend Update and Miley as the musical guest.

For the first time in the Jost/Che era a political stance was hinted at with the “polling too high” joke made about Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson. It would be a breath of fresh air to see Weekend Update get some bite back to it. Also different for this year was the tone that Jost and Che seem to be building, which is that Jost, or the character he plays on SNL, is, in fact, an upper class privileged white guy who is oblivious to that privilege. The only issues I have is that criticism, while very on the nose, is it’s unsettling by nature because it seems that Jost does lead the writing staff from a place of clueless-privileged-white-male perspective. The times that SNL has shined in recent years has been when they have gone away from that tone, and I suspect those sketches, or host are not working from material coming from the Jost writing staff.

The Musical Guest

What would I know? I do not own or listen to Miley Cyrus. It sounded like she was trying to sing some very emotional ballads. But it looked like she was dressed as ______________ [I have no idea wtf was going on with the wardrobe for the band…animal skeletons!?]. I will give Miley Cyrus this, studio 8h is not kind to musicians, as the acoustics are horrible and most guest sound average to even house band talented at best. If you can shine in studio 8h you got chops to be a great live act. Studio 8h did not hinder her sound. And yes that is a compliment.

Thumbs up / Thumbs down

Thumbs up to

  • the aforementioned Kate McKinnon as Hilary sketch
  • 50’s dance
  • Pete Davidson as a Weekend Update guest [just let Pete Davidson be himself – stop trying to character write for him]
  • The Squad. This is the second time SNL has made a comment about Taylor Swifts catchyness [I do not think that is a word].
  • The 10-to-1
  • Anything Leslie Jones touched

Thumbs down to

  • Colin Jost
  • Kyle Moony as the Pope. It was so so bad. How did it make it out of the 8 pm rehearsal!? You could tell that both Mooney and Jost knew it was bombing but they could not get out of it.
  • Millennials – wtf is this!? The Californians redone. Who let this get out of the writers room. The Californians is one of the worse reoccurring sketches in SNL HISTORY and this is nothing more than a re-do of that theme.
  • Abilify for Candidates [it was like a cold splash of water so early in the episode]

Feature Player of the Night [the Kate McKinnon award]

This is a not contest. The award goes to Leslie Jones. Kate McKinnon already has the award named after her so she wins on a weekly basis. For season 41 episode 1 Leslie Jones made a very clear statement: This is the year of the woman. It’s her season for the taking if she wants it, and I hope she takes it. As a writer/performer she has a much better chance than most cast members, as it it widley known that your best chance of getting on air is writing herself on air unless you’re a Will Farrell or Kristen Wiig type.

That does for us here at the Lionize. The rest of the SNL reviews won’t be so long. We hope you enjoyed it a we look forward to the discussion all season long!

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