SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "John Cena" Episode 1713 -- Pictured: Host John Cena on December 6, 2016 -- (Photo by: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “John Cena” Episode 1713 — Pictured: Host John Cena on December 6, 2016 — (Photo by: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC)

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2016.

Love It

Hook a Hunk – The hook of “Hook a Hunk” is clear from a mile away. As soon as all the contestants on this dating show parody are introduced, and not one of them is played by John Cena, it follows that the hunkiest of hunks in the building must be playing the host and Cecily Strong’s contestant must fall for him in favor of any of the contestants. And yet, “Hook a Hunk” succeeds despite its obviousness, as Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney carve out their own little scene amidst the disappointment, because love wins.

Aidy Bryant clings to the ledge while holding on to the Office Christmas Tree, and some terrifying camera angles ramp up the tension necessary to build to the catharsis that is so important in comedy.

Keep It

Dyke & Fats Save Christmas – There’s no beating the visceral thrill of their first appearance, but if Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant’s buddy cops start rescuing every holiday, I won’t complain. The basic idea is that only Dyke & Fats are allowed to call themselves by their stereotypical monikers, but in this episode, what is under threat is not their orientation and body type but their gender, a hill that they thought was surely already climbed. It takes the temperature of the real world without underlining the point too heavily.

The Lead with Jake Tapper supposes that Trump may nominate as head of the DEA Walter White (complete with Bryan Cranston cameo). These are the sort of loopy ideas we need to mock this administration, but this selection feels almost too obvious…Do Michael and Colin feel a little rusty to anyone else in this outing? Colin’s biggest laugh quite possibly comes when he says, “Cool, well it’s dress rehearsal” after all…I appreciate Angela Merkel’s attempts at early German sarcasm and references to Hoobastank…Cathy Anne, the woman always yelling outside Che’s window, may have just found her place as the most clearheaded voice of the state of the nation…The Charles Barkley-hosted financial advisory game show for athletes, Where’d Your Money Go?, is way too obvious (“every answer is ‘no’”), but at least it has a few great quips about Sir Charles’ propensity for ridiculous bets…My favorite part of the self-assured first perspective filmed piece Through Donald’s Eyes? Novelty huge-handed John Cena reflection…The erotic lit fantasies at The Scorched Corset are a little too overwrought, but it does give us the classic description “horny, wealthy ghost with full-throttle knockers.”

Leave It

Applied Science 101-A – There is certainly a valid point to be made about the preferential treatment granted student-athletes, but it does not have to be made as cruelly as this sketch does. Cena’s Alabama football hunk provides a few loopy laughs – calling the outside of a banana the “crust,” confusing an orange for a round banana – but the rest of the scene is painful to any sense of decency. Sure, administrators may overlook academic shortcomings in favor of bowl game glory, but the insults thrown at the students worth their salt belie a disturbing undercurrent that goes so far beyond “looking the other way.”

“Let’s all challenge John Cena!” feels like one of those tossed-off Monologue concepts (though New York Santa’s delivery of “Ho ho ho! I’m walkin’ here!” is certainly worth a laugh)…The Karate Teen has something going with this idea of catching a penny, but then the bully just pounds away…The United States of Talent does not deserve criticism for having an owl letting loose from both ends, it just needs to gird that sight gag into a stronger sketch overall.

John Cena
When hosting SNL, a wrestling superstar is going to hit his marks and do exactly what you ask of him, especially if what you ask does not stray too far from his wheelhouse. So John Cena is tasked with playing a bunch of lunkheads: college football players granted special treatment, a Billy Zabka stand-in, etc. And he does with those roles what the script requires him to do, but the writing does not go beyond those simple setups. Cena does not have the comedy instincts to take it to the next level on performance alone, so I do not fault him for this episode’s shortcomings. He does not make anything worse, but he is not really in a position to make it better.

Maren Morris
I appreciate any modern country act that does not hew to the bro-country template, and generally that is avoided with the ladies, and that is surely the case with Ms. Morris. She is definitely doing her own thing, but it is not particularly unique. I appreciate the liberal gospel influence, but that is not unheard of for the genre. Same most certainly goes for the fiddling, downhome joys of old automobiles, and spangly outfits. It is all well-done, sure, just not particularly striking.

Letter Grades:
The Lead with Jake Tapper – B-
John Cena’s Monologue – C
Hook a Hunk (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+
The Karate Teen – B
Applied Science 101-A – C
Dyke & Fats Save Christmas – B
Maren Morris performs “My Church” – B-

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B-
Angela Merkel – B
Cathy Anne – B

Where’d Your Money Go? – B-
Office Christmas Tree – B
Through Donald’s Eyes – B
Maren Morris performs “80’s Mercedes” – B-
The Scorched Corset – B
United States of Talent – C+