Miley Cyrus first hosted SNL back in 2011; at the time I was a little irritated by the show's kowtow to the youth demographic, but in retrospect she ended up being a decent host. Following the media attention to her infamous twerking performance with Robin Thicke at the 2013 Video Music Awards, her second hosting gig seemed to be an inevitability. This honestly didn't bother me much, largely because all the finger-pointing and tongue-wagging towards that particular incident seemed to disproportionately blame and criticize Cyrus, as well as call her mental health into question. Her attempts to sexualize her image have a whiff of trying too hard, but for all the questionable decisions she made in the past few years, Cyrus comes off more as a 20-year-old who makes many the same mistakes as a lot of non-famous people do than a cautionary tale in the waiting.
Some were expecting the show to be a trainwreck; Cyrus did seem to fan those flames by getting into a feud with Sinead O'Connor over the latter's open letter to her, but by air, she seemed collected and in control. I'm not going to kid myself: Miley Cyrus is no Justin Timberlake, but she did fine on double-duty. She has a self-awareness that I never really detected in Britney Spears, so while she sometimes does stupid things, she also seems fully aware of her actions.
I was more impressed by her ability to share the spotlight and join in SNL sketches as part of the ensemble. In that respect, she was light years ahead of Justin Bieber. Cyrus also performed her songs decently, even if it only served to illustrate that "Wrecking Ball" and "We Can't Stop
aren't especially great songs to begin with.
Where the show faltered was the writing. A lot of the sketch ideas came across as fairly low-hanging fruit for the show, particularly the VMAs, the cable networks' Hilary Clinton movies). My main issue with the "Mornin' Miami" sketch is that SNL has overused the promo shoot premise in the past few years; while the one-liners ended up justifying the sketch's place in the live show, it still felt like the writers plugging things into formulas instead of building towards a strong payoff. The poetry teacher sketch had a few moments, but while it was nice to see Vanessa Bayer get a feature role, her character wasn't developed enough for the sketch to work. The worst segment was the "cheerleader alien abduction", which felt too similar to "Nascarettes" and "Delinquent Teen Girl Gang" in that the crux of the sketch was the same unfunny joke repeated over and over. I actually found the technical miscues funnier than the actual content of the sketch.
There were bright spots here and there: the "We Can't Stop" parody with John Boehner (Taran Killam) and Michelle Bachmann (Cyrus) twerking was memorable, and new players Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett got some of their own sensibility on the air with a pre-taped 10-to-1 sketch. Bobby Moynihan can be still depended on to provide a quick laugh if a sketch begins to falter. "Girlfriends Talk Show" came across as a predictable choice for a lead-off, but Aidy Bryant demonstrated that she carries those sketches. Cecily Strong is growing into her role as Weekend Update co-anchor, but has yet to fully ditch the "Seth Meyers' trainee" vibe that permeated last week's show, and the segment as a whole has become way too long and bloated in recent years.
Next week's show should prove to be a wild card: Bruce Willis returns as part of SNL's "Hey, let's get someone who hasn't hosted in a long time" series with musical guest Katy Perry.
A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT CANADIAN TV: I missed a good chunk of the "Fifty Shades Of Gray Auditions" because Global, the Canadian broadcaster of SNL, mistook the commercial parody for a real commercial. This has been happening infrequently for the last 10-11 years or so, possibly longer: I remember back in 2005-06, the network would run commercials during the Robert Smigel "TV Funhouse" segments. It's annoying because in most markets, the American signal from NBC is unavailable due to simultaneous substitution. SNL has been clearly marking their ad breaks for years, and to keep doing this suggests incompetence with live TV on Global's part. NBC needs to consider renegotiating the Canadian rights to the show with another network.