SNL: Selena Gomez, Ronda Rousey, Cecily Strong (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in January 2016.

With a few exceptions, athletes tend to be rather limited in their usefulness on “SNL.” Just having the host play him or herself or some variation in every sketch can solve this problem. But Ronda Rousey and/or the writers concede this point and give her very little to do throughout the night. Thus, she does not really affect the overall quality of the episode one way or the other. There are a few great sketches, a few okay ones, and some recurring sketches that seem to be hiding their recurring status.

Trump Rally – With Sarah Palin’s typically loopy endorsement of the Donald dominating this week’s election coverage, it felt like a no-brainer to bring Tina Fey back home (so long as she could make it through the snow). Back in 2008, there was the sketch parodying the Katie Couric interview of Palin, which was basically just a recreation of the original. The same approach could have easily been employed again this time around, but it ends up just being the jumping off point; she mentions the “bitter clinging” and adds some new rhymes and free associations (“Mom, 2 Broke Girls, and Three Men and a Baby” is a highlight). In addition, the asides from Trump serve as an astute, though not especially deep, commentary. B

Ronda Rousey’s Monologue – When a non-actor hosts, the monologue usually does  not require much of them, resulting in especially corny premises. That appears to be what we are getting with the recently dethroned UFC champ, as her intro takes the form of a fight, complete with commentary and a coach in the corner. But it proves to be sharper than expected, with Rousey pointing out the cheapness of applause lines and trotting out a popular cast member’s impression for no reason. The ending with Selena Gomez does not quite have the same kick, but it does not last long enough for that to really matter. B+

Screen Guild Awards (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Taking on #OscarsSoWhite, this awards show parody is at first a little too facile, but then its increasing ridiculousness creates a comic situation that succeeds well enough on its own. It is not like some random white nobody who accidentally wanders into frame is getting nominated instead of worthy minority actors at real awards shows, but it is a hilarious concept, and an absurd exaggeration of reality. The actual issue of diversity in the film industry is much more complicated, but the simplistic point this sketch makes is acceptable comedy. A-

lovestruck – If “SNL” is going to have Ronda Rousey host, they might as well have her punch somebody. That could be the punchline, but a punch is not a punchline; it is a punch. The two might have the same oomph, but to different ends. In this case, as Rousey’s fist meets Vanessa Bayer’s face, it is not the conclusion, but the turning point. That is key. The physical response to verbal abuse is a nice twist, but Bayer’s effort to push through with her vitriol while staggering around is an even better one. B+

Bland Man – This “Bachelor” parody has the same format as the one from the Blake Shelton episode from last season, but this edition takes an even harsher approach to the minutiae of the reigning dating show franchise. Everyone is devoid of personality, and the dates are designed to be silly in a way that prevents any real connection. It is the dates, though, that do have personality, even though they do not make any sense (taking a race car to an improv class, a hot air balloon ride with the cast of Chicago Fire). It is frantic sketch, but its energy sells a lot of one-liners. B

Selena Gomez – “Good for You”/“Same Old Love” – The semicircle of backup finger snappers gives off the vibe of a cult, which is an appropriately hypnotic approach for Selena’s recent sultrier material. This is not your straightforward pop concert, clearly. Unfortunately, Selena smiles and plays to the crowd in the straightforward way when she ought to be playing up the danger and mystery. She probably wants to, it likely just does not come naturally to her. B

Weekend Update – Michael and Colin know there’s some pretty messed-up things in the world, and they could scream and shout about them, or they can match their insanity, thereby keeping themselves sane. So they compare Donald Trump to a velociraptor testing the fences at Jurassic Park and posit that he might very well one day pretend he’s getting a phone call from Batman on his shoe. Michael’s take on #OscarsSoWhite is similarly sensible, clearing out the detritus from the more serious aspects of that issue. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B+
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones – In her most on-point segment yet, Leslie details her certainty over her ability to land Leo DiCaprio. This is on-point in the sense that she sticks to her ostensible topic, not in the sense that she makes good points. She is still rather rambling, meaning that she continues to rely on the weird details, which are few and far between this time, save for the ham sandwich after sex. C
Weekend Update: Willie – Kenan’s improbably chipper old-timer has been way too frequent a guest for his routine to really kill anymore. But while he may be predictable, he is predictably unpredictable, such that the bizarre turns in his stories can still provoke full guffaws. Who else could come up with an asbestos removal crew screaming, “My god, there’s somebody alive in here!” B

Three’s a Crowd – Basically an exact recreation of its predecessor sketch from last season’s Taraji P. Henson episode, this trial scene covering a scholastically statutory affair adds another teacher to complete the ménage à trois. It is a little uncomfortable how okay just about everyone is with the affair, which would not be as troublesome if the comedy were sharper. As it is, just a couple of the nicknames and the fact that dad and grandpa are reunited really earn laughs. C-

Supercrew – This sketch about an overstuffed superhero team that insists all its members must have full introductions before fighting their enemy is a one-joke premise whose one joke is not all that funny. That could be overcome if the cascade of heroes were filled with wild details, but it is rather bland on that count. Perhaps it could have worked if it had committed to extending the introductions to the point of exhaustion. With two heroes able to easily vanquish the threat, and the rest completely useless, tension could have been built into infinity if the rest had continued to just get in the way. But instead the competent ones actually take action relatively promptly, leaving you going, “Oh. Nothing really happened then.” C

At the Club – This music video is mostly concerned with taking male braggadocio and focus on well endowment down a peg, but the presence of Beck Bennett’s never-nude throws a wrench into that. It is understandable that the ladies would be turned off by the overly aggressive style of Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam, but it is weird that the guy shy about his body would be (deservedly) called out for the same thing. Without any clear room for sympathy, the whole number is rather unpleasant. B-

Citizens Forum – “SNL” returns to the city council complaints/announcements well, but it still needs a breakout character. The closest is Kyle Mooney’s Dutch music man MC Strategy, who is just offbeat enough to make an impression. And Aidy certainly puts in her typical gusto as Jan Krang. But the bottom line is, the story of the Drone MILFs is not all that compelling if we hardly see the Drone MILFs. C

Selena Gomez – “Hands to Myself” – Selena’s performance mode of choice here, involving a lot of movement and interactivity with her dancers, raises the normal threshold of difficulty. She does not quite have the stamina to make the most of her voice amidst everything else that she is doing. While it is tiringly busy, it does fit with the pleasure-seeking message of the song. And there is one big moment of triumphant joy, when the music drops and Selena, in the middle of a 3-way hug, declares, “I mean, I could, but why would I want to!” B

Football Party – While the Good Neighbor shorts keep getting cut, at least this live sketch captures their sensibility, with Beck and Kyle as a couple of awkward guys who have no idea how parties work. Nor do they understand much of anything in the way of social protocol, in particular visiting someone else’s house. Luckily, they are nice guys who get the message once it is explained to them. They are frustrating, but they inspire patience, generating some interesting tension. The rushed ending is a little jarring, though, especially as it undercuts the development of what comes before. B+

Settl – Despite accusations of plagiarism, the last few minutes are filled with a repeat of this dating app parody commercial. Original Grade: B

Notes & Quotes:
-“2 Corinthians short of the Bible”? Is that a thing?
-In the Thurgood Marshall biopic, his girlfriend asks him, “Do you like me, or your books?”
-“Before this, I was in a really bad cult.”
-“I served in Iraq. I was a waitress in a diner there for three years.”
-Ronda is wearing essentially the same outfit as Selena when introducing her first performance.
-“There’s got to be nothing more infuriating to Spike Lee than nominating a movie called ‘Brooklyn’ starring only white people.”
-“A California woman has turned her 12-acre ranch into a home for more than a thousand cats. Reached for comment, her husband left 10 years ago.”
-“Feel free to bring something, but no pressure.” “Mm-hmm. Like a bucket.” “We’re just going to be watching TV. We don’t need buckets.” “Perfect!” “Oh yeah, so we’ll just bring a couple of TV’s then?”
-“We live 2 hours away, we don’t have a car.” “Yeah. Thanks, Obama!”
-“I’ll be the one with the nachos.” “Hey, we’ll be the ones with the towels!”