TV Recap: Saturday Night Live – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Twenty One Pilots

Written by Mark Henely and Melissa Jouben

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Saturday Night Live – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Twenty One Pilots

Host: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Mark: This wasn’t a very good episode of SNL. However, I don’t want to lay that at the feet of Lin-Manuel Miranda (star/writer of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton!). Miranda is a strong actor who has good comedic timing and seemed genuinely excited to be there. Let’s put it this way: there wasn’t a sketch tonight that was ruined by Miranda dropping the wall.

Tonight was just a collection of bizarre, yet forgettable sketches that didn’t land and didn’t even make any sense. This is a very skippable episode.

Melissa: For the sake of transparency, I will at least say this: I don’t care for Lin-Manuel Miranda. A part of me dreaded this episode out of the fear that my biases against him would poison my perception.

But what Lin-Manuel did last night was admirable. His enthusiasm was palpable, and the reverence he has for SNL as the institution it is was endearing. His monologue was a great way to establish who he is to a broader audience. And it was an admittedly impressive monologue, at least by my standards.

Considering the host gets to have a decent amount of sway over the tone of their episode, I wondered at times if some of the less successful sketches (read: pretty much all of them) were pitched by him, or were simply ideas he enjoyed the most. Although the episode was full of duds, Lin-Manuel never seemed to know, playing all his characters with an unshakeable readiness.

Whether or not the sketches landed or they missed – and in some cases they missed big – he was having fun. And that’s what makes a good host. Also, “My Shot” has been stuck in my head this morning and I guess that counts for something.

Mark’s Sketch of the Night: VP Debate Cold Open

Mark: In the best sketch of the night, the Vice Presidential debate is interrupted by a breaking news update about Donald Trump’s freshest controversy (you know, the one where he bragged to Billy Bush about how he can grope women because he is famous).

Every part of this sketch is well executed. Mikey Day and Beck Bennet do a great job playing Tim Kaine and Mike Pence and Melissa Villasenor does a great job playing off the crowd and owning the room when she is on screen. It looks like they had a fully formed sketch about the debate, but they had to scrap the back half of it because Trump’s campaign completely imploded 24 hours before the live show started. SNL was in the rare position to respond to a news story first and they had to take advantage of that.

Alec Baldwin’s Trump is not only spot on and hilarious, it’s culturally important. The public’s interpretation of Trump has morphed from believing he was a likable reality show host to vicious bigot who spits vitriol and calls it a campaign. Baldwin’s Trump reflects that change and makes the man look as ridiculous as he truly is.

Also, once again, Kate McKinnon’s Hilary Clinton is one of the most well-fleshed out characters on TV. Viewers always know her Hilary as well as they know Sheldon or Penny from Big Bang Theory. Viewers have watched McKinnon’s Hilary desperately pine after the Presidency for years now and it is exciting to see her character so close to what she wants. It makes me excited to see what McKinnon will do with the character once her counterpart wins the Presidency.

Melissa’s Sketch of the Night – Campfire

This episode was full of duds. But in spite of that, the cast was still able to have some fun now and again, and I don’t think they had nearly as much fun anywhere else in the episode than they did in “Campfire.” The premise is… Wacky. I don’t particularly understand the idea behind this sketch or where or why Lin-Manuel’s character falls in love with Kyle Mooney and Vanessa Bayer’s characters so suddenly.

But that hardly feels like it matters when you see the smiles on their faces when they look at each other. For anyone who isn’t a fan of Saturday Night Live behind the scenes, Cecily Strong is a HUGE fan of Hamilton. Huge. And to see her sitting alongside Lin-Manuel, singing with him and smiling at him, it was heart-warming. Maybe that’s a bad reason for picking this as the best sketch of the night, but there wasn’t much to work with.

As for the sketch itself, Cecily Strong commits hard as the straight man in this sketch, which sets Lin-Manuel up so well for his role as the should-be straight man who gets won over by the oddball siblings who wander into his campsite and sing him terrible 80’s songs in vaguely European accents that they don’t have normally. It makes no sense.

I don’t even know what the game of the sketch is – was it the bad singing? The incestuous couple seeking notes on their bad singing from strangers? Lin-Manuel’s eventual infatuation with them? I don’t know. But of all the sketches from this episode, this is the one I’ve thought about the most. This is the one I’m going to show people who didn’t watch.

Photo Credit: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC
Photo Credit: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Mark and Melissa’s Worst Sketch of the Night: Wells Fargo Wagon

Mark: There are certain topics that are so boring that comedy crowds will not invest in, no matter how hard the cast and crew tries to make it work. The banking industry is one of them. In this sketch, Miranda plays a banking salesmen who tries to give bank accounts to people and things that don’t need them in a town in a Broadway Musical.

The only part of this sketch that lands is a Kyle Mooney character with a lisp.

Melissa: Rewatching this sketch, I realized I missed the intro that explained this was supposed to be a scene from “The Music Man.” Which lends to my theory that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s personal taste influenced what did and didn’t happen in this episode. I just thought this was supposed to be some made-up bad movie TCM was playing.

I’ve never seen “The Music Man.” Maybe that would make this funnier. It makes sense now to me that the reveal of the man in the Wells Fargo wagon trying to sell credit cards to children would be funny, because that’s not what happened in “The Music Man.” My conclusion is that this joke is probably funny to people who understand all the references, but I don’t, so it didn’t really play for me.

Photo Credit: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC
Photo Credit: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Musical Guest: Twenty One Pilots

Melissa: I didn’t know that 21 Pilots sang these songs, which I’ve heard on the radio a lot – too much to actually like them, but enough to sing along sometimes. I actually saw them perform live when I went to a taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers and they were the musical guest. They bring a good energy – or at least they did then – and draw a heavy crowd. It felt like half the audience for that episode were young girls who waited on the standby line to get in just to see them. Based on what I know about them, pairing the band with Lin-Manuel Miranda for the episode was a good choice that probably contributed to a larger viewership for this episode.

Mark: I think Twenty One Pilots are boring AF.

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