This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2016.

Love It
Pine Ridge Campground – You know you’ve got something special when the first post-monologue sketch has a nondescript setting. That is a promise of weirdness that you do not see coming. And boy, is that promise fulfilled, as the surprises just keeps piling up. Vanessa Bayer and Kyle Mooney are a pair of incestuous amateur singers with indefinable faux-European accents, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is the captive audience wise enough to stick around and see what happens next.

Michael and Colin just keep glorifying in all the material that Trump wraps up in a bow for them, and they really sell it with asides like Che’s quick take on the tic tac ad with the new Trump-inspired slogan…Netflix: Behind the Scenes reveals the one thing that Stranger Things was missing: racial consciousness! … LMM does a variation of “My Shot” in his monologue, but more importantly his love for SNL shines through in a way that clearly came from the heart as opposed to being written by committee.

Keep It
Vice Presidential Debate/CNN Breaking News – The only reason this week’s cold opening is a “keep it” and not a “love it” is because it is too close to the real thing. The Trump Tapes are darkly hilarious (if you can temporarily put aside the disgust), and all SNL can do (as it has so often this campaign) is say, “Yep. That happened.” But there are a few worthwhile additions, like Hillary’s giddy wink, as well as Trump adding “bop it,” “twist it,” and “pull it” to his repertoire alongside “grab it.” Plus, the form-breaking approach in which this story just gobbles up any attempt at a VP debate parody is a fun twist and really the only rational decision. Maybe in a few years this sketch will feel more essential when it can serve as a historical document.

Substitute Teacher takes aim at a cliché that deserves a takedown, but the scene could use a little more structure…Pete Davidson gets a little loopy as he discovers the joys of Propecia…Diego Calls His Mom attempts to cram a lot of a material into a minute or two, and it is never quite clear what the joke is, but man, does it have some lovely directing…It looks like Melania Moments will indeed be a regular quick-hit segment; quite the long-form story is set to unfold…A Degree of Valor aims for 10-to-1 weirdness but is mostly mundane, though it does manage a fair bit of sass in the nick of time.

Leave It

Denise McDonough and Doreen Troilo – Look, I’m not complaining about Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon returning to the Weekend Update desk, no matter how random their appearance may be. Nor am I even more broadly complaining about excessive SNL cameos. If the drop-ins are funny, then they’re funny. But to make sure they are indeed funny, they have got to be assembled with care. But this bit about a couple of undecided Philly-area lady voters represents how cameos can go so obnoxious. This is just a couple of friends goofing, without any real jokes. Yes, these are two very funny people, but they can do better. The Grease 2-themed 40th birthday party is a memorable weird detail – there should be more of that.

Crucible Cast Party is not as sharply defined as other recent SNL lady-led music videos…“A Day Off” is a little confusing in its staccato editing, and also in how it sets out to make Kellyanne Conway a sympathetic figure (though it does earn points for “Blah Blah Trump Controversy)…A Wells Fargo-centric parody of The Music Man is clever, but this one is underwritten.

Lin-Manuel Miranda
On a scale of Ralph Nader to Steve Martin, Lin-Manuel Miranda is kind of like first-time Zach Galifianakis: he is allowed to do his own thing, but the show cannot quite figure out how to incorporate him into everything else. LMM is basically given free rein to do a tribute to Broadway’s greatest hits, and considering that SNL frequently goes to the musical well, this should be a fine match, but it does not quite click. The problem is not so much that Miranda’s sensibilities do not jibe with 30 Rockefeller Plaza’s but rather that they jibe too well, so the material gets a little lazy, knowing that this host is going to hustle on every play. He does not blow his shot, but he is not the only one taking aim.

twenty one pilots
On a scale of Color Me Badd to Foo Fighters, twenty one pilots do not easily fit into any historical analogue, even though on first glance, they don’t seem that unusual. The Green Day influence is obvious, but vocalist Tyler Joseph is aiming for a wider vocal range than Billie Joe Armstrong’s punk growl. We could also point to Linkin Park and their mix of rap and genuine singing. But twenty one pilots distinguish themselves with a more adventurous stylistic approach, with the ominous alternative rock of “Heathens” and the pure reggae of “Ride.” They are not especially flashy, but they sneak up on you with how they distinguish themselves.

Letter Grades:
Vice Presidential Debate/CNN Breaking News – B
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Monologue – B+
Pine Ridge Campground (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+
Crucible Cast Party – C
Substitute Teacher – B-
A Day Off – C
twenty one pilots perform “Heathens” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B+
Pete Davidson – B-
Denise McDonough and Doreen Troilo – C-

The Music Man – C
Diego Calls His Mom – B
Netflix Behind the Scenes: Stranger Things – B+
twenty one pilots perform “Ride” – B
Melania Moments – B
A Degree of Valor – C+