“Saturday Night Live” Season 41 Premiere: High on Hillary


Here are six takeaways from last night’s season 41 premiere of Saturday Night Live.

This Saturday Night Live premiere was never going to be a classic.

Season premieres of Saturday Night Live often struggle, mostly because the show doesn’t operate on the schedule that people might assume. The show’s staff had the same number of weeks to write and prepare this week’s sketches as they do any other week: one. Much of what appeared to be sloppiness and laziness can be attributed to the gears on the SNL machine slowly shaking off the rust that accumulated over the summer.

On top of that, the show’s writing staff experienced a major shakeup just a few weeks ago. Many of last night’s sketch writers had never been a part of the weekly SNL grind. As frustrating as it is to write off a disappointing show as a product of inexperience, that’s exactly what last night was.

That said, the episode had its share of disappointments. Taran Killam’s impression of Donald Trump was dead-on, but as with Jay Pharoah’s Obama, lacked a perspective. It was simply an impersonation, not a characterization, of a man who seems to invite the former but defy the latter. And the dialogue he delivered in the tepid cold open didn’t challenge or expand upon what everyone knows and has already said about Trump. But odds are we’ll see Killam’s Trump again soon. Hopefully next time, he’ll have something to say.

Weekend Update was also frustrating. Colin Jost and Michael Che came into their own in the back half of last season, but the flashes of camaraderie they showed then all but evaporated on this installment. It seems like Jost and Che need excellent material in order to gel as co-hosts, which is fine, but elevating mediocre material is important too, and that didn’t happen here.

Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton just might be a classic.

I was dreading the much-ballyhooed cameo from the perceived frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, but my fears were assuaged upon hearing the adroit banter between the magnificent comedian currently tasked with playing the former Secretary of State and the real deal herself. McKinnon’s delivery of “Could’ve been sooner” in response to Clinton’s waffling about same-sex marriage carried an extra charge given that McKinnon herself is gay. The impression, while still centered around the idea that Clinton is hiding behind a ravenous desire to simply be president already, reached new heights of pathos as the faux-Clinton spilled her concerns to the real one, playing the bartender Val. And Clinton acquitted herself just fine, aside from a slight case of the Cue Cards (happens to the best of us, and would totally happen to me).

I’m never crazy about presidential candidates appearing alongside their impersonators on SNL, and I generally prefer if the politician elevates the show rather than the other way around. It certainly won’t hurt Clinton’s campaign to have this sketch circulating around the Internet in the critical months to come, but the Clinton sketch was the best of the night, perhaps because the writers felt obligated to justify her appearance with good material, or because the stars simply aligned in a way they didn’t for other parts of the night. That said, though I predicted a Trump appearance based on this Brian Stelter story, I was happy not to have one. The election is still 13 months away, and the show has plenty of time to stake its claim within the cycle.

Miley Cyrus and I are on very different pages in regards to how funny and edgy we find her weed jokes.

Miley Cyrus likes to smoke weed. We get it. She’s far from alone, especially in Hollywood. We’re long past the point when it’s shocking that the former Hannah Montana star avails herself of the wildly popular depressant, and we’re even further from the time when Miley Cyrus making jokes about how much she smokes weed could be considered “edgy” or “subversive.” Now it’s just annoying. Miley’s lifestyle choices are up to her, but jokes about the lifestyle choices we’ve accepted bring out her least appealing personality trait, a constant desire to be perceived as outside the establishment.

Related: Miley Cyrus is a terrific singer, even when her songs don’t rise to the occasion.

I have almost nothing positive to say about last night’s musical performances, except that Cyrus delivered their absurd lyrics entirely and sublimely on pitch. Say what you will about her antics, her ineptitude with social justice issues, her psychedelic streak  — this woman can sing.

Bring on Amy Schumer and Tracy Morgan.

The next two hosts are seasoned comedians with plenty of experience working in sketch comedy. Schumer somehow has avoided overexposure despite being everywhere in 2015, and Morgan brings with him the harrowing narrative of surviving a tragic vehicle accident that left him in a coma for eight days. Most important, these are naturally funny people who will likely be game for just about anything. No shots at Miley, who’s proved a surprisingly adept host in the past, but last night was a weak showing, even taking into account the lackluster screentime she was afforded.

New cast member Jon Rudnitsky may or may not be Colin Jost’s evil twin brother.

Tell me I’m wrong.


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