SNL: Blake Shelton, Cecily Strong (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in January 2015.

The last time a male country music star hosted “SNL,” the results were a lot more interesting.  The thing is, Tim McGraw has much more acting experience than Blake Shelton, and thus he was a lot more comfortable branching out home from his country persona than Shelton was in this episode.  “The Voice” judge mostly stuck to variations of himself or generic roles.  This was fine for ensuring a show that ran smoothly, but it also prevented his appearance from being a truly memorable one.

Inside the NFL – This take on the New England Patriots deflated ball scandal made the weird decision of focusing on a whiny Tom Brady.  Brady is sometimes criticized for being an arrogant pretty boy, which is basically the antithesis of what Taran Killam was playing him as.  The idea may have been that in playing dumb, he was being someone he clearly wasn’t, but that didn’t really stick as comedy.  Luckily, Bobby Moynihan saved the day as Dougie Spoons, one of his classic hype men characters.  The “A Few Good Men”  parody was unexpected, but more or less successful. C+

Blake Shelton’s Monologue – Blake Shelton’s attempt to bring “Hee Haw”-style country humor to “SNL” threatened to make his monologue unapologetically, unadvisedly cheesy.  Luckily, it was subverted fairly quickly, with the cast misunderstanding the extent to which they were allowed to make fun of Blake’s dumb, slutty family.  While their quips were undoubtedly hilarious (Pete Davidson’s matter-of-fact “I had sex with your sister” took the cake), as it went along, the exact nature of their confusion became, well, confused.  The conflict initially seemed to be Blake taking offense at everyone taking things too far, but by the end, it was apparently always about trying to get Leslie to laugh.  So, a little messy, but thankfully unpredictable. B

Farm Hunk (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Making fun of “Bachelor”-style reality shows is nothing new, and this edition appeared to be handicapped by leaning very hard into stereotypes.  But it rammed through all its shortcomings with a breakneck pace.  None of the ladies wore out their welcome because they all kept interrupting each other.  It seemed like each bachelorette was going to reveal a porn acting past, but that was wisely confined to the Comedy Rule of Three, and a whole mess of various dysfunctions were allowed to splash across the screen. B

Wishing Boot – This country music video pastiche appeared to feature Kate McKinnon as Reba McEntire, Aidy Bryant as Wynonna Judd, and Blake Shelton as Toby Keith.  But oddly, their identities were neither confirmed nor denied.  The concept of magic footwear that delivers whatever is needed at the lowest moment of a country song was sufficiently goofy, but it was too random and disconnected from anything to really make an impact.  Perhaps that randomness hit the sweet spot for some viewers, but it lacked a strong general appeal.  The surreal joy of the dog turning into the wishing boot is hard to deny, though. C

Celebrity Family Feud – The problem with the current iteration of “Family Feud” parodies on “SNL” is that there are too many different kinds of crazy, and not really any normal for them to bounce off against.  Like, Kyle Mooney’s compulsively howling Steven Tyler impression was hilarious, but wasn’t really connected to anything.  It was probably too simple to build an entire sketch around, but some degree of simplicity would have greatly helped here.  The Feud sketches also encourage the host to be unnecessarily self-indulgent; who was demanding a make-out session between Shelton and Adam Levine? B-

Blake Shelton – “Neon Light” – Blake Shelton’s first song of the night was a clear illustration of why country music has such a sizable loyal audience, and why he is one of the genre’s biggest stars.  It was straightforward, and everyone played their instruments clearly and cleanly.  It is hard to deny the obvious musicianship here, but it is also hard not to say that more nuance and adventurousness would have been more impressive. B-

Weekend Update – Michael and Colin made a little bit of an effort to improve their chemistry.  It was not clear if it was planned or impromptu; either way, it did not help much.  So once again, these co-anchors need to be appraised on their own individual merits.  This time around, they both had some decent jokes, but neither brought their A-material.  Colin is a lot more confident with his delivery than he’s ever been, but he still has only a smidgen of personality.  Michael deserves props for the played-straight, but subversive, crack about a bad female driver killing the Saudi king, but he undercut himself by chuckling at his own joke.  He is willing to go dark and dangerous, but he does not quite have the disposition to really pull it off. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B-
Weekend Update: Riblet – This old high school friend of Michael’s is a tricky sort of character, in that it is hard to portray him as obnoxious without the performance being obnoxious itself.  Luckily, Bobby Moynihan excels at that sort of tightrope walk.  Seriously, who else could make inexcusable slang like “work hord” and “jorb” endearing?  The sheer audacity he displayed in dropping a microphone justified his whole behavior. B
Weekend Update: Pete Davidson – Once again, Pete Davidson showed a knack for taking a tangentially related news story as a jumping-off point for exploring a personal and social issue.  He was refreshingly comfortable with his sexual curiosity, but that did not mean he was the best communicator with his girlfriend.  His exploits may be pot-fueled, but they are also an earnest exploration of stereotypes. B
Weekend Update: Nicole, Michael’s ex-Girlfriend – It is fine when Update guest commentaries have essentially nothing to do with the topic they are supposedly covering.  Pete Davidson just proved that earlier in this edition.  But they have to have a unique point of view about something.  Sasheer Zamata did not offer that as Nicole.  Instead she and Michael acted out the most cliché relationship argument imaginable.  The return of Riblet made it somewhat bearable. C-

Prisoner Hearing – This sketch with Kenan Thompson as a convict pleading his case for parole may have seemed like it tipped its hat too quickly by revealing so soon that he was a cannibal, but it soon became clear that that was necessary.  His insistence that he had paid his penance despite clearly not having reformed and making no attempt to hide that was amusingly psychotic.  It was a performance that really required sinking one’s teeth into, and Kenan relished the opportunity. B

Topeka Today – This morning show human interest story initially reeked of too much illogic.  Eventually, though, it made sense that this old man would want to reveal the truth about his awful wife after 70 years of hellish marriage and that he would have an ally who would be willing to help put together his feelings in song form.  Still, it did not make sense that the hosts of this show would not have vetted him beforehand or just, you know, watched the YouTube video that supposedly had 2 million views. B-

Blake Shelton – “Boys ’Round Here” – The lyrics of this classic Blake Shelton song sound like they could be a little sexist with their illustration of the good ol’ boy lifestyle.  Ultimately, though, they are too generic to fairly call them offensive: yeah, the boys are drinking beer and talking about girls, but they might be doing so respectfully.  But that generic quality does represent a musical shortcoming: this is just nowhere near a unique enough picture to give a sense of Shelton’s particular point of view.  However, he accomplishes what he sets out to do, and that is shooting right down the middle. C+

Magic Act – The overeager audience member was Shelton’s best performance of the night, as it took full advantage of his limitations.  His wild vacillations between defiant skepticism and extraordinary belief were conveyed rather vaguely, so it was a genuine surprise that his behavior turned out to be a ruse to expose Taran’s magician as a fake the whole time. B-

Some Bullet Points:
-While the Tom Brady impression was off the mark in the cold open, Beck Bennett did a great job of capturing coach Bill Belichick’s voice and physicality.
-“I’ve also done some light porn.”
-“I’m a second grade teacher … in pornos.”
-“I’m a veteran … of the porn industry.”
-“I don’t like Mexicans, I don’t like Chinas.”
-Steve Harvey’s description of Blake Shelton as a “metrosexual lumberjack” was a bit of an oxymoron, as lumberjacks are apparently replacing metrosexuals.
-“The places in America with the worst bedbug problems are Chicago, Detroit, and yo’ mama.”
-“Are you saying you want to eat your younger self?” “Does that make me rehabilitated? Yes, it does.”
-“At this point, you should only be thinking about what you want for your last meal.” “A man.”
-What the magic show audience member wants to be magically granted to him: riches, the power to know what women are thinking, ability to slam dunk, Wolverine claws, “be a black guy,” guns for hands, chicken nuggets (with ranch), guns for a head, and of course, the power to go down on himself.