Look: maybe this won”t be so bad?
This has been a pretty stellar season of “Saturday Night Live,” by far the best and most consistent since I”ve started covering it here at the start of Season 36. So who could blame the show for picking a host based on corporate synergy rather than comedic talent? Plenty of hosts serve a larger purpose than “comedic quality” when they appear, and at least we are sure that Blake Shelton isn”t ashamed of making a fool of himself. (We have his cringe-inducing holiday specials as evidence of that.)
Look: Shelton is an incredibly charismatic host on “The Voice,” but nothing I”ve seen there screams that he”ll be well-suited for hosting “SNL.” Still, my fears are really based on nothing but fears: hosts as varied as Bruno Mars and Eli Manning have turned in more-than-credible jobs as host, and I wouldn”t have thought either had a chance in hell of making the show”s 90-minute length feel like anything less than 90 hours. And if having such low expectations means I”m pleasantly surprised by tonight”s episode, well, then I”ve set myself up for a fun evening.
As always, I”ll be liveblogging each segment in real time, so check back often throughout the night and share your thoughts as the episode progresses. Things will kick off right at 11:30 pm EST.
Inside The NFL: RIGHT INTO DEFLATEGATE, BABY! This Boston-based writer is ready. Beck Bennett gets the role of Bill Belichick, and he”s here to throw Tom Brady under the bus. Taran Killam plays Brady, who wants to talk about his vintage hat instead of the allegations. Look, I”m a homer here, but there are a million ways to make fun of Brady instead of pretending like he”s an idiot. He deflected a lot during his press conference, but whether you think he was lying or not, he”s a smart guy. (That may have been the sketch's point, but Killam's performance eventually made Brady seemed genuinely dumb as opposed to simply evasive and shifty.) The real culprit here, according to in-sketch Brady? Dougie Spoons (Bobby Monyihan), equipment manager and Tom Brady acolyte. (“We live in a world with BALLS!”) Spoons and the press devolve into the climatic scene from “A Few Good Men,” which is an outdated reference but well-delivered all the same and saves the sketch from being completely unmemorable. Unlike, you know, DeflateGate, which no one will forget until the next thing that makes everyone super upset for no legitimate reason. [Grade: B-]
Monologue: It”s “Hee Haw” time in Studio 8H, and I”m already regretting my earlier optimism. Luckily, most of this is a deconstruction, with Shelton getting increasingly upset with the cast”s misunderstanding of the show”s corny humor. (Pete Davidson's roast was laugh-out-loud funny.) This went on a little too long, but there was energy aplenty, which goes a long way. This might be how the night goes: Shelton is the still center around which the casts goes crazy. I”m fine with that! [Grade: B+]
Farm Hunk: It”s hard to top “The Bachelor” in terms of comedy, since it”s already unintentionally one of the funniest shows on television. I can”t tell if Shelton is intentionally acting stiff here or if he”s genuinely nervous right now. I do like this for the “parade of women” aspect to give the show”s female cast a chance to equally shine, especially Kate McKinnon (who brings spaghetti, a macaw, and welding equipment to the proceedings). But OH MY GOD THIS DOES NOT END. I feel like I watched an entire season of “The Bachelor” rather than a sketch on “SNL”. The audience died a little with each iteration, especially since outside of McKinnon and Aidy Bryant the women didn”t have enough character to distinguish themselves. Also? Leslie Jones is going to have a HUGE night tonight in terms of screentime, you can already tell. [Grade: C-]
Wishing Boot: Or, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Blake Shelton”s Fake Moustache”. The first two verses of this country song are pretty sounding but boring, yet the idea of Shelton”s dog having been a magical boot for the duration of their time together is bizarre enough to make me giggle. But I have to ask: What the hell is the point of this? And why is this yet another sketch about three times longer than it had to be? I just don”t know about this episode so far, you guys. [Grade: C]
Celebrity Family Feud: It”s “American Idol” versus “The Voice” in this iteration. 90% of these sketches consists of just introducing the contestants, but that”s OK when you get jokes like “Mark Maron 5” and calling Steven Tyler “a dreamcatcher come to life”. Kenan Thompson does his best to keep this sketch above water, but this is the third segment in a row that feels directed by Peter Jackson. Holy hell these things are interminable. The post-intro segment is comedic death, with the audience trying their best to throw the show some love but finding little to like as the celebrities try and come up with correct answers. Throw in the never funny “Isn”t it amusing when two guys almost kiss???” ending and you have me looking longingly towards 1:00 am. [Grade: C-]
Weekend Update: Michael Che”s high school friend Riblet (Moynihan) crashes the “Update” desk to show just how easy the anchor job is. It's way easier than working at Friendly's, he insists. (“Riblet can do both jorbs!”) Riblet”s pigtails are the best, as is the remade “Update” intro. Later, Pete Davidson arrives to talk about cyber security. It”s really a segment about Davidson”s sexual anxiety after watching “The Wolf Of Wall Street” and how it led him to watch gay adult cinema. And it”s pretty damn funny, even if it”s a slight riff on his very first “Update” appearance in the Fall. Finally, Che”s ex-girlfriend Nicole (Sasheer Zamata) arrives to talk about personal finance. I keep waiting for Zamata”s break-out performance on “SNL,” and this…was close, but not quite it. (The pauses in the interplay between Zamata and Che just killed the whole thing.) If nothing else, this “Update” gave us the best Colin Jost delivery yet: “This past Wednesday was National Hug Day….Dad.” [Grade: B]
Parole Board: Before tonight, I had never considered the phrase “Texas Man Gobbler” as possibly ever existing. I know those three words, but never imagined combining them in any order. And this is why I live life: For new experiences. It”s not a particular great sketch, but Thompson makes it far better than it has any right to be, and there are some great punchlines to boot. (“At this point, all you should be thinking about is your last meal.” “A man!” “No!” “Two boys?”) Not sure the sketch had to turn “The Shawshank Redemption” into “Hannibal” to make this work, but that”s why they do what they do I and I do what I do. Points here for having a sketch in which Shelton isn't playing a farm hunk, a country singer, or himself. [Grade: B-]
Topeka Today: Killam is a 97-year old man who wrote a song for his wife after she passed away. Shelton is a local singer who helped put the words to music. It starts off sweet, but naturally gets weirder as it progresses. (“My Darling Joan/I”d hide in the closet and read my Bible for strength”) The best part? Killam mouthing along with the song and occasionally miming some of the actions described in the lyrics. I wish this song had escalated the anger, rage, and fear with each verse far more than it did. As it was, this was service-level: a fine idea that announced itself and then never transcended its initial reveal. For a second, I thought we were actually going to get those extra three verses, at which point I would have run into the snowy New England night, never to return. Dodged a bullet there. [Grade: B-]
Magic Show: An audience member who initially is skeptical about magic gets convinced way too easily and way too deeply, leading to him going on stage and begging the magician to make him rich. But that”s not all: He wants guns for hands…and chicken nuggets. There”s some fun physical comedy involving Shelton”s new believer trying to pleasure himself behind the curtain, but it ends on a sour note in which all of Shelton”s actions are a long con to get the magician to admit magic isn”t real. There”s the kernel of a dark comedic sketch here, but this wasn”t the right show or the right host to attempt it. [Grade: C]
Best Sketch: “Monologue”
Worst Sketch: “Celebrity Family Feud,” as “Farm Hunk” at least had a macaw
How Was Blake Shelton The Singer?: Unsurprisingly, far more comfortable than Blake Shelton The Host. Country music isn”t my thing, but he sings the hell out these songs all the same.
Next Week: J.K. Simmons hosts!
Final Thoughts: Look, “SNL” has bad shows all the time. And this was one of them. It happens. The fact that the show basically ended at 12:55 am and played out the clock via commercials was the last in the long line of weird things that happened. The stars don”t always align. I can”t even say a lot of tonight was truly horrific so much as almost start-to-finish undercooked. Let”s just forget it and move on, as will every single person associated with tonight”s episode.