Last week on its season premiere, Saturday Night Live was unusually self-aware, bringing Tina Fey aboard to ease the start of this transitionary year and help introduce many new (white) featured players. This weekend's episode was just as self-aware, with the first half completely dominated by host Miley Cyrus; we were treated to a series of sketches that referenced and (occasionally) lampooned the real life controversies that have surrounded her lately (though notably, there wasn't any mention of Sinead O'Connor, so we guess she's still persona non grata in Lorne Michaels' house). An admirable strategy, but it was a mostly disappointing episode.
The cold open "Twerking Apocalypse" (which was delayed by nearly 30 minutes thanks to the Notre Dame/Arizona State football game) dove right into The Miley Show, with Cyrus being confronted by Old Miley (played perfectly as ever by Vanessa Bayer) over her VMA performance and the ramifications for society. It was a have-your-cake-and-eat-it moment for Cyrus, who got to "humorously" address lots of her critics while also sticking to her tongue-sticking-out guns. Despite Bayer's enthusiasm and Bobby Moynihan's hilarious cameo as a sad dancing bear, the sketch just didn't go anywhere and was bogged down by Miley-Being-Miley platitudes. But hey, it was still better than the usual terrible political cold opens. And it was way better than that Justin Bieber episode. Progress!
The monologue was mercifully short (maybe the shortest ever?), and included a strange Hannah Montana-is-dead joke that seemed to set the tone for the night. Cyrus was a bit more successful in the shutdown-referencing "We Did Stop" video (parodying her song "We Can't Stop"), although the sketch was stolen by Terran Killam's John Boehner grillz and Jay Pharoah's brief cameo as a horrified Obama.
Speaking of positives: we had a hell of a lot more Pharoah this week than last, including his great Will Smith and Tracy Morgan impressions. The star of this episode was Bayer, who in addition to playing Old Miley, was fantastic as Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy on Weekend Update. Moynihan continued to be the show's best scene-stealer, especially as Bitch Fantastic in the surreal "Mornin’ Miami," which was the best sketch of the night. Kate McKinnon also wasn't in this episode much, but she was great in every sketch she appeared in, especially as Hillary Clinton in the Breaking Bad parody "Running Rodham."
Cecily Strong is still easing into her new slot as Weekend Update host, but she was a solid presence in a few otherwise forgettable sketches. Also good: Nasim Pedrad was actually in multiple sketches this week! Her Ariana Huffington didn't get much applause, but she unveiled a killer Aziz Ansari impression in the excellent "Fifty Shades Of Grey Screen Tests" (everyone was good in that sketch, but kudos to Killam for his Christoph Waltz).
The new guys continued to not stand out too much this week: Mike O’Brien briefly appeared during "Poetry Night," Kyle Mooney anchored the okay-ish final sketch of the evening, Noel Wells got to show off her Emma Stone impression, and the other guys...were there. We think.
Click through for all those sketches, plus Cyrus performing "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball." Overall, this was a dud episode, but not as embarrassing as we feared. Next week's host is Bruce Willis (for some reason), so fingers crossed for an appearance by Bruno.