SNL: Taran Killam, Miley Cyrus (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in October 2015.

We are currently living in the Postmodern Miley Cyrus Age. A couple years ago we were in the Modern Era, with the public coming to grips over her burgeoning sexuality and appetite for controversy. Currently, her rebellion is accepted as a given, with her self-awareness tacitly acknowledged by most camps. Her rebellious streak remains, so now she is mostly rebelling against her own sensibilities. In this fashion she hosts the Season 41 premiere of “Saturday Night Live,” her third time. The new year is starting off relatively quietly, at one of its least transitional moments of the past few years. Miley proves to be something of a perfect fit, as her restlessness is the yin to the yang of the show’s peacefulness.

A Message from Donald and Melania Trump – A Donald Trump impression debuting in October 2015 is following in the wake of a whole summer’s worth of Trump-targeting comedy, as well as a generation’s worth of Trump-edy. So it goes without saying that Taran Killam’s impression has a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, in his inaugural appearance, he serves as little more than a mouthpiece for a predictable, though thorough, takedown. The zings about how he tries to pass himself off as loving women, how he is hardly a social Republican, and how his economic plan makes no sense are all there, and you’ve seen them all before if you’ve been paying attention. C

Miley Cyrus’ Monologue – Though her sketch comedy skills were questionable when she first hosted “SNL,” she was a promising booking because of the potential material her Disney and tabloid backgrounds offered. In her third appearance, she does not carry with her the same wealth of controversy, so she struts out on stage in a getup worthy of Phyllis Diller and performs a fairly original concept for a monologue: an in memoriam song for all the newsmakers of summer 2015 who will eventually be forgotten. It efficiently utilizes the following Miley’s musical abilities, everything important that happened between this season and the last, and the fact that Kim Davis is basically an Aidy Bryant character. B+

Abilify – One really does need to be crazy to run for president. Some manage to do great things for this country in the midst of their insanity. Then there are the likes of Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Jim Gilmore, for whom this dementia does not amount to much more than a waking nightmare. B

Homecoming Dance – The postmodern Miley is on full display in this sketch about a dance at some sort of Rydell High School. Danny and Sandy knockoffs populate this pastiche, and then Miley pops in as the new girl, a visitor from the future to show these greasers what letting loose your inner bad girl really means. This setting could have been hopelessly out of style, and Miley’s presence could have been hopelessly self-indulgent, but together, they work as a commentary on the fluid scale of public decency. B-

Hillary and Val – The not-so-surprising Hillary Clinton cameo involves entrusting an actual politician with an unusually significant amount of comedic legwork. It is also one of the most respectful confrontations between subject and impersonator in “SNL” history. As Val the bartender, Clinton is willing and able to match Kate McKinnon’s beat for beat in all their carefully crafted eccentricities. B+

Miley Cyrus – “Karen Don’t Be Sad” – Miley’s latest outrageous outfit appears to have been inspired by “Land of the Lost.” The 70’s psychedelia of that cult classic is of a piece with her latest music, which initially gives off a vibe of “weird for the sake of weird.” But it manages to connect, as it is cross-bred with sensible production and composition – balladry, jangly strings, and judiciously positioned electronic blurps. B+

Weekend Update – What do you know, Colin Jost and Michael Che have developed their chemistry over the summer, and it feels … natural? Jost’s best joke is the double standard between him and a burger turning black for Halloween, and Che underlines the absurdity by mentioning his disapproval of that line. Meanwhile, Che starts his Season 41 series of rants strong, noting the importance of meeting with people you disagree with, a la the Pope and Kim Davis. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Pope Francis – The current head of the Catholic Church has the biggest X factor of any pontiff in decades, perhaps centuries, so of course Kyle Mooney would play him. He pretty much nails that Argentinian accent with a little bit of Italian style. B
Weekend Update: Pete Davidson – The Resident Young Person’s commentaries saw diminishing returns last season, as he indulged his all-over-the-place tendencies. This edition is a winner because he actually brings in the elixir: focus. What could have just been a series of random quips about his confusion over politics snaps into place with his realization that doing things because they’re funny leads to dangerous consequences when taken too far. B
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones – Have we reached the end of a journey? Now that the desires are directly and publicly stated, will Leslie Jones and Colin Jost finally hook up? But before we get to that point, Leslie is the most affecting and empathetic she has yet been with her relationship advice. “I just ain’t feeling you like dat” is just as devastating as she claims, and the story she paints lets her stay strong and ridiculous. B

The Millenials – Brattiness and entitlement are not features of millenials – they are features of young people, and millenials just happen to be the current young people. That is to say, this sketch’s takedown of Gen Y is exceptionally surface-level. It is analogous to movie parodies made by people who only watched the trailer. But the discussion of gender identity introduces some fun new terms, and the gag about apparently jumping out of a window turning into taking a break from social media is well timed. C-

Katz’s Delicatessen – Leslie Jones takes her recreation of Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm to the extreme, which could be a recipe for hysterical disaster, but the details to the story that accompany her climax add another layer. There are idiosyncrasies to spare, inspiring equal parts confusion and intrigue in Rhonda’s friends. This sketch is overall a mighty fine example of filling the scene with strong character work; in addition to Leslie, Vanessa Bayer is self-satisfied with her Billy Crystal impression and Kate McKinnon slays just by ordering her soup “hot.” B+

The Squad – This short about the apocalyptic nature of Taylor Swift’s friendship might claim directorship from Alfonso Cuarón, but its most direct influence is the pilot of “The Walking Dead.” The most unsettling thing about “The Squad” is not that T-Swizzle’s influence has wiped out society as we know it. No, it is the confusion over whether or not that is a bad thing. Aidy Bryant and Vanessa Bayer are thus perfectly cast as the leads, as they can easily play folks who look like they should be Swifties but also have to grapple with whether or not they are too cool for that sort of thing. B-

Miley Cyrus – “The Twinkle Song” – As Miley’s latest album is called Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, it is fair to guess that some of the songs are tributes to deceased furry friends. “Twinkle” sounds like the name of a goldfish. It is crazy for an adult to commercially release such a tribute, but that is the crazy that Miley seems to be going for. It should be noted, though, that the pictures on the piano feature a dog, a cat, and a duck, so perhaps “Twinkle” actually was a critter with a long enough life span to make an impression. Still, this performance captures a sense of something being much more affecting than it should be – Miley certainly brings herself to tears. B

American Voices – Addressing the dearth of women among late night hosts by going back in time is counterintuitive, though its treatment of a successful black female comedian in a segregated era is instructive. The role of Ruby Nichols requires dignity, and Leslie Jones brings it. The ending is so abrupt that it feels like part of the sketch may have been cut off because the show was going overtime. If it was intentional, though, it was bold (though not necessarily successful) to leave it all hanging. B-

Kyle Miley Wedding (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Nearly 2 years to the day after Kyle Mooney struggled to grasp the awesomeness of hooking up with Miley Cyrus, he is having just as much trouble accepting their marriage, with the added wrinkle that she can warp temporality. Perfect situations are antithetical to comedy, but Kyle Mooney solves that problem by inventing a perfectly illogical personal crisis. A-

Notes & Quotes:
-New featured player Jon Rudnitsky manages to slip into a major role for his debut, as the mostly frightened object of wild child Miley’s affections in the Homecoming Dance sketch.
-“I’m not smart like Donald, I didn’t go to Hogwarts School of Business.”
-“I’ve had a hard couple of 22 years.”
-Hillary Clinton’s Trump impression may actually be better than Taran Killam’s. Perhaps the frustrations of her political aspirations are telling her that her true calling is sketch comedian.
-“I’m one of those clowns that you don’t want to have sex with?”
-The transition between the last two sketches is a little disorienting and thus a little exciting. The videotaped opening of Miley and Kyle’s wedding makes it so that it feels like it could be part of “Too Late with Ruby Nichols.”