(CNN) — By hosting “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, Miley Cyrus might have just had the last laugh.
The 20-year-old pop star has eclipsed nearly every other figure in popular culture in the weeks following her salacious twerking-with-teddy-bears routine with Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards on August 25.
There was no way “Saturday Night Live” was not going to address the subsequent tidal wave of reaction, and the sketch comedy series smartly attacked it right at the start of the cold open.
With “SNL” cast member Kenan Thompson playing a wise old-timer in the year 2045, he recounts what led America to an apocalyptic state of destruction.
“Most folks say it was the government shutdown. Others blame Obamacare. But I remember the exact day America ended: it was the 2013 Video Music Awards,” Thompson said.
Cyrus was in on the joke from the start, as the camera cut to her being warned not to take the stage by “old Miley,” as played by “SNL’s” Miley impressionist, Vanessa Bayer. (“I think I’m hallucinating,” Cyrus said in a winking joke. “I must’ve smoked too much … cigarettes.”)
“Old Miley” was there to warn that the VMAs routine “might be too controversial” and hit all the references in the process: Cyrus’ revealing costume that could potentially land her in prison; the constant tongue wagging (“I’m having tiny strokes, yo!” Cyrus explained); and the stuffed animals as stage props. (Cried one stuffed bear before going on stage, “We shouldn’t be doing this! This is for kids!”)
But in the end, Cyrus told her old self that while she knows kids look up to her as a role model, she’s still growing up herself.
“I’m only 20 years old, I need some freedom to grow up and make mistakes,” she said. “And no matter what happens, I promise I’ll always be true to Miley Cyrus.”
Just don’t expect her to feel the same way about her former Disney character, “Hannah Montana.”
As the 20-year-old said in her opening monologue, “I don’t apologize for my VMAs performance. If I owe anybody an apology, it’s the people who make the bottom half of shirts. There are a few subjects I’m not going to get into tonight: I’m not going to do Hannah Montana, but I can give you an update. She was murdered.”
And thus began an extremely Miley-heavy episode of “SNL,” as she appeared in most of the night’s sketches and gave two pared-down performances of her hits, “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball.” While she’s made headlines for both the music videos for those songs and her attire while performing them live, on “SNL” Cyrus turned in two tasteful sets that were focused less on her dance moves and more on her voice.
She also provided impersonations of a few famous faces, including Scarlett Johansson and Hillary Clinton, but the favorite of the night was her take on Michele Bachmann in a parody of her “We Can’t Stop” music video, “We Did Stop (The Government).”
With Taran Killam playing Speaker John Boehner in a tight white tank and matching leggings, the parody was easily one of the night’s best sketches.
Sample lyrics: “To my government workers on the furlough, even though you’re already paid low: Remember only God can judge us, forget the haters, because somebody elected us.”
One topic conspicuously missing from the broadcast was any mention of Sinead O’Connor, the singer Cyrus has been publicly battling with over social media.
It all began when O’Connor wrote an open letter to Cyrus last week about her nudity and suggestiveness in the “Wrecking Ball” music video. Cyrus hit back with a tweeted dig at O’Connor’s past mental health issues, as well as the infamous moment in 1992 when the “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on “SNL.”
Yet for all those who waited patiently to see how “SNL” and Cyrus would tackle the back-and-forth — which on Friday grew to threats of legal action — they were left disappointed. Sinead O’Connor wasn’t mentioned, nor was a photo dramatically torn in her honor.
Overall, the episode was smooth, light on nudity and mainly twerk-free.
“Hey, look at that,” tweeted the Huffington Post’s Mike Ryan. “Miley Cyrus didn’t just play an exaggerated version of herself and she was really good.”
For The Hollywood Reporter, Cyrus’ episode outshone last week’s “SNL” premiere with veteran Tina Fey.
Even Kirstie Alley weighed in with support.
So why didn’t Cyrus incorporate the one dance move that’s been at the center of the insane amount of debate she’s caused?
Well, “I used to think twerking was cool,” Cyrus explained during her monologue. “But now that white people are doing it it seems kinda lame.”