SNL: Adele, Matthew McConaughey, Cecily Strong (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in November 2015.

Matthew McConaughey has two different, but ultimately complementary reputations. The first is of the ultimately chill dude. Up until about four years, that translated into meaning he would rather play the bongos naked than get down to work. But now, in a post-McConaissance world, he is known more for his commitment to challenging and unusual roles. That mix of mellow and focused is perfect for an “SNL” host, and it may very well be enough to overcome any bad memories from his unforgettable first stint in 2003. (Musical guest Adele, meanwhile, had an excellent “SNL” debut, and the only bad memory is the near-decade it has taken her to return.) Oddly (or predictably) enough, this episode is marked by the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which figures in seemingly every sketch of the night.

Fox & Friends – The latest cold opening with the Fox News morning crew remains relatively focused, perhaps because the conservative fearmongering related to refugees has no limit. The hosts check in once again with Kate McKinnon as no-BS DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who throws in some hack comedy (Florida is where Cubans escape communism, Guatemalans escape the drug trade, and old people escape winter) to mark her territory. Ben Carson also drops in, with Jay Pharoah continuing to pull the faux-enraged shtick, which is still relevant. Overall, this routine of fools is “SNL’s” safest bet, though not its ceiling, for political yuks. B-

Matthew McConaughey’s Monologue – The majority (if not the entirety) of “SNL” hosts are in the business of storytelling, so it is a wonder that more of them do not simply use their monologue to just tell a story, as McConaughey does here. The tale is the origin of his signature catchphrase, which also happens to be the origin of his first iconic film role: David Wooderson of “Dazed and Confused.” His lesson is that an actor can learn everything about his character from just one line, just as a host can set the tone of the entire show from just one monologue. So, unsurprisingly, we learn that McConaughey can relate to someone who loves cars, weed, rock ‘n’ roll, and chicks, though there is no inherent guarantee the show will capitalize on all that. B

Adele for Thanksgiving – When entertainers bridge every demographic gap, the worry is that they are too offensive or too milquetoast to really be worthwhile. That is not at all the case with Adele. Ignoring every tenet of probability, both her appeal and her talent know no bounds. Thus, this piece’s contention that her music can quell any Turkey Day familial dispute only makes perfect sense. The welcome intrusion of “Hello” prompts laughs of relief. B+

Charlie’s Blues Shack – McConaughey takes on the role of Portland bluesman Howlin’ Bobby Wallace, who struggles to find the right vibe while sitting in with Waylon Otis Elmore (Kenan Thompson) and his band. This sketch is not sure whether to focus on hipster skewering (going outside into the sun gives Howlin’ Bobby the blues) or comically exaggerated misunderstandings (instead of heartbreak, a Howlin’ Bobby verse ends with a reunion with his wife). These two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they do not cohere in a way that prevents this scene from feeling haphazard. Eventually, there is a happy ending of sorts as Bobby gets the hang of it, by revealing an actual bout with depression. C+

3D Bio-Print – The first 3D-printed human being is unveiled in a “To Tell the Truth”-style guessing game in which he sits alongside two naturally born men, and the audience is encouraged to spot the artificial edition. The answer is immediately obvious, which means this sketch must rely on McConaughey’s performance of glitchy verbal tics and stiff physicality. He gives it all and maintains the right amount of consistency, but overall there is just sufficient enough tension to fulfill the requirements of healthy comedy. B-

The Force Awakens Screen Tests – A welcome trend of 2010’s “SNL” has been the series of absurdly populated casting sessions of classic films. But this genre actually achieved its apex back in the 90’s, in recognition of the “Star Wars” 20th anniversary re-release. So this episode’s edition naturally takes advantage of the newest highly anticipated entry in the space fantasy series. There is a feel of industry approval, what with an introduction from director J.J. Abrams and appearances by new stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. But really, this is more a matter of everyone wanting to get in on the fun, especially with Emma Stone, Michael Bublé, and Jon Hamm cameoing as themselves. The impressions come and go so quickly, it is hard to even process what the joke is. The overall result is fine, but a little more disorienting than is probably intended. The highlight is Bobby Moynihan capturing Danny DeVito’s up-for-absolutely-anything style, as he rolls around to win the role of a droid. B

Adele – “Hello” – The only disappointment about Adele’s performance is that everyone has already heard “Hello” a bunch of times, so we could not be blown by an awesome discovery the way we were during her first “SNL” appearance back in 2008. The world has been waiting a while for new music from her, and even longer for her to make it back to Studio 8H. She has finally returned, and that is all that needed to happen for this to be a success. Nice details include the camera angle during the first verse making the fluorescent lights in the background look like angel wings and the cross-eyed shrug of relief. A-

Weekend Update – The centerpiece back-and-forth on the biggest topic of the week has now become such a staple of this iteration of Update that Colin and Michael can confidently declare, “Okay, time to get real for a few minutes.” Naturally, this time they take on the refugee crisis, knocking down the angry rhetoric of this contentious subject to contend that the conflicts here are deeply silly, akin to making fun of the people who do not get to ride a rollercoaster. Overall, Che is really taking advantage of his sneaky relationship with Colin, piping in with feisty questions about Jost’s most groanworthy punchlines (e.g., why would the Toronto Raptors mascot be anyone’s role model?). Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Laura Parsons
– Vanessa Bayer transports her hammy child actress character to the desk to debut her role as the “Newscaster of Tomorrow.” She takes on material that is just as adult as what she has tackled onstage, but in this context, she is called out on it, instead of blindly encouraged by directors and parents. Still, Che is no match to stop her from referring to HIV as that thing that makes your whole body go, “Oh boy!” B
Weekend Update: David Ortiz – While Big Papi is a fairly big name to baseball fans, he is not a huge celebrity otherwise. So instead of crafting an impression based on any his actual characteristics (other than the Dominican accent), Kenan Thompson creates a bizarro version of the slugger who is a glutton for low-rent sponsorships and rather compulsively precise about his language, especially regarding how he constantly lists the Dominican dishes that make up his prodigious lunches. It is completely nonsensical, but at least in a way that is fairly unique. B-

Should You Chime in on This? – “SNL” game show sketches have a tendency to reveal everything there is to know about them right away. They can get away with it somewhat, since the tight format allows for exploration of many permutations, but it hurts to give up the surprise. This diatribe against people who have no business weighing in on controversial topics, or stirring up controversy where there is none, has its heart in the right place, but it makes its point well enough in the first minute and could have stopped there. C+

Right Side of the Bed – The main joke of this recurring Southern morning show is subtextual, but obvious (husband co-host is overly affectionate because he is most likely hiding the truth about himself). Since that beat is hit over and over the same way each time, Gracelynn and Cory’s guests need to offer something memorable, which is not really achieved this time. McConaughey is happy to play along as the scraggly Butcher Buster Littles, but it is a thinly drawn character on a sketch with a thin premise. C

Adele – “When We Were Young” – Adele’s newest single works as a solid companion piece to “Hello,” because its high notes are not as immediately attention-grabbing. But when they eventually catch you, they do not let go. While “Hello” is big and bold, “When We Were Young” is steady, and also bold. B+

Amtrak Meeting (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – With McConaughey as Earl the town burnout complaining about a civic matter he has no business talking about, this sketch initially feels like a retread of “Should I Chime in on This?” But then Earl starts throwing out increasingly silly pejoratives to call out everyone else for their supposed pretentiousness (“Little Miss I Know How to Read,” “Real Hand,” “Mr. Never Got Hit or Bit By a Bat”), and the 10-to-1 placement suddenly makes perfect sense. B+

Notes & Quotes:
-Shockingly, there is no Corrections scroll for Fox & Friends. Instead, we get a check-in from their fact checker Carla (Leslie Jones), who assures them they are doing “bad!”
-McConaughey claims to have hosted 14 years ago. It was actually 12 ½.
-“Yeah, I’ve never heard of Fight House.” “I could say the same about you. Ha ha!”
-Michael could not see Colin’s Mein Kindle punchline coming.
-Allen DeGeneres is the latest in a long line of “SNL” game show hosts whose names are slightly different from an actual celebrity’s.
-“I think you drew a Hitler mustache on Thomas the Tank Engine.”