Saturday Night Live firmly endorsed Hillary Clinton during its season premiere. The real Hillary introduced one of host Miley Cyrus’ musical performances. Real Hillary played a bartender pouring drinks for Kate McKinnon’s Hillary in a sketch designed to show what a good sport Hillary Clinton is. And SNL took shots both smart and silly at Bernie Sanders, the other Democratic candidates the show says no one knows, as well as slapping around Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and every Republican in sight. SNL guru Lorne Michaels went all-in for Hillary, as though the country’s life depends upon her election.
The show started off with a cold-open sketch showcasing Taran KIllam’s fine Trump impersonation, plus Cecily Strong as Trump’s wife Melania. The punchlines weren’t anything special (they boiled down to: he talks policy gibberish, but attacks Megyn Kelly all too clearly), yet Killam’s rendering of Trump was special indeed: he had the bleating voice, the pursed lower lip, and the bratty-kid frown down cold.
Cyrus was charming throughout the night. Loved her Phyllis Diller dress and hat for the opening monologue, which included a clever, sung farewell to some of the year’s most appalling trash-news stories (kudos to Bobby Moynihan for pulling double-duty as Jared Fogle and Josh Duggar). Miley was energetically plucky ‘n’ vulgar in a 1950s Grease parody. As her own musical guest, she performed two songs which I presume are on that boring album she recently leaked for free; that said, her vocals were excellent. For the first number, she dressed as a cross between Lady Gaga and George Clinton; during the second song, a ballad, she cried, making a real-looking tear spill down a cheek.
Back to that Hillary-walks-into-a-bar sketch: It was really impressive on a couple of levels. McKinnon’s fine Clinton impersonation (the jabbing finger motions, the clipped bark of her voice) was augmented by a quick Darrell Hammond-reprising-his-Bill-Clinton cameo, and Real Hillary was a trooper as bartender, joining in singing the Bill Withers oldie “Lean On Me.” If this doesn’t help humanize her for the SNL audience, nothing will.
Clinton was further aided by “Weekend Update,” which included Pete Davidson doing a nice monologue about how little he knows about politics which gradually sharpened to a point: He drew a comparison between the persistence of Trump and the absurd longevity of Sanjaya Malaker in the sixth season of American Idol, noting that if, like Sanjaya, Trump stayed in the running, it would mean, said Davidson, “now I actually have to go out and vote” — i.e., young people must help America avoid a Trump presidency.
The show’s traditional Oddball Sketch Stuffed Into the Last Five Minutes turned out to be a two-fer: a very well-executed parody of a PBS-style documentary about a pioneering black, female late-night host (Leslie Jones playing Ruby Nichols, complete with fake Moms Mabley-style party-record covers and Miley Cyrus as Hayley Mills promoting The Parent Trap). This unaccountably bled into another, entirely different, taped bit: Kyle Mooney married to Miley, with their entire relationship from marriage to the grave played out in a matter of seconds. It was odd but funny.
Sure, there were sketches that didn’t work — the When Harry Met Sally orgasm bit; the fake disaster movie about Taylor Swift’s girl squad taking over the world; the supposedly new Fox show The Millennials, which started funny but was too one-note (how many times can a show say it hates millennials?). But for the most part, SNL returned with a lot of vigor and a strong point of view. And you can bet all the Sunday news shows, Fox News, and all of Monday’s morning-news shows are going to be replaying and dissecting those Hillary moments.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:35 p.m. on NBC.