Review: Saturday Night Live “Blake Shelton”

Sometimes, if you pay close (or, honestly, even casual) attention to the news, you can spot a Saturday Night Live cold open sketch a mile away. Such prognostication was rewarded this week when SNL opened with the New England Patriots “deflategate” on the forefront of their minds.

It’s just too juicy a story for them to pass up. So, how’d they do?

It begins with Kenan Thompson’s Greg Gumbel impression complete with a tight afro resembling a microphone. Then, Bill Belichick (Beck Bennett) throws Tom Brady (Taran Killiam) under the bus during the infamous press conference in which Brady pleads ignorance on everything from the air pressure in footballs to “science computers.” Finally, Brady introduces equipment co-manager Dougie Spoons (Bobby Moynihan) and the whole thing devolves into a parody of the “you can’t handle the truth” scene from A Few Good Men.

Amusing enough, but the real problem here is the reality of the situation is way funnier than what SNL had to offer – particularly Brady’s frequent “balls” references that felt intentional because he simply said it so much. In this case, it’s SNL that couldn’t handle the truth.

The full episode was hosted by country music star Blake Shelton who also pulled double duty as musical guest. He kicked off his monologue with an immediate reference to his heavily discussed drinking problems, describing himself as the “Justin Bieber of country music.” Since this is a New York-based show and Shelton is the rare country music guest, they naturally featured him in a Hee Haw sketch complete with bales of hay and milk jugs. Because… yeah…

Shelton was wisely used in a parody of The Bachelor where Shelton, the “Farm Hunk,” immediately decided he was probably going to send the two black girls home first, a frequent reality of The Bachelor itself. Bravo, SNL, for rightly calling that one out.

The skit itself was pretty funny, particularly if you’ve seen anything out of The Bachelor. No matter what Shelton describes (“my town is really ugly and stinky and far away from things”), the women – all living in Hollywood and veterans of the porn industry – respond with “mmm… I like that.” The skit nicely used much of the female cast since real-life Bachelor contestants are always interrupting to “steal him for a second.” The lunacy escalates dramatically through the remainder of the skit, highlighting with Leslie Jones’s offer to “shuck your corn all night long.” This was the rare occurrence where SNL succeeded in skewering “reality” and was the best the night had to offer.

Shelton, Kate McKinnon, and Aidy Bryant highlighted the next skit, a digital short parody of country music called “Wishin’ Boot.” They nail the look, feel, and sound of country music, but it dragged on forever, largely repeating the same central joke over and over.

I wanted things to pick up significantly with a reliable SNL stable – the game show parody – but the jokes really weren’t there. This time, it’s “Family Feud: Celebrity Edition” hosted by Kenan Thompson’s brilliant Steve Harvey impersonation – literally the best thing he’s ever done on the show for my money. The competing teams were The Voice versus American Idol. The impressions were fine, but Kyle Mooney needed to step up his Steven Tyler work and I have no idea who thought Beck Bennett could pull off Harry Connick, Jr. He couldn’t. Celebrity impressions can’t carry a skit alone, and the written jokes were fairly weak – particularly the uncomfortable persistent Blake Shelton/Miranda Lambert references that fell really flat with the audience.

Speaking of flat, it was time for “Weekend Update.” There were a few funny jokes here and there, but the highlight of the segment was Bobby Moynihan’s Riblet character. Riblet tries to prove to Michael Che he could do Che’s job at the Weekend Update desk. That’s an interesting thought – why not have SNL return to the early days where “Weekend Update” was led by someone in character. Couldn’t be much worse, right?

The next skit, “Parole Board,” followed one joke through the whole skit, basically that Kenan Thompson repeatedly gave melodramatic life-lesson speeches during his parole hearing. Imagine Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, and you’re basically there. The parole board, however, was disgusted by Thompson who was an unapologetically a cannibal. The torturously unfunny segment predictably ended with a shout out to Shawshank. This skit, in conjunction with “My Darlin’ Joan,” set up a double whammy of bad skits in the back half of the show, traditionally the section where I find at least one or two odd gems. “Joan” was especially bad, taking an In Memorium song written by Shelton to dishonor a reportedly terrible woman. Not good. Not good at all. Although, even as of this writing, that song is stuck in my head, and I’m making up funnier lyrics as it goes along…

To close the evening, Taran Killam played a “Magician” with Blake Shelton as a hilariously incredulous audience member. Shelton kept interrupting Killam, asking him increasingly bizarre requests such as making him rich, giving him guns for hands, or making him a black guy for a day. The skit was fine in its conception, but Shelton was the MVP here, surprisingly going for broke and really selling the mediocre material.

That’s largely the theme for the entire show, actually. Shelton brought comic timing rarely seen in non-comic hosts. Frankly, I’d dreaded this episode simply because he wasn’t a tried and true comedian. Turns out, it’s the show that let him down with typically subpar writing. Shelton, though, should be proud of himself for giving it his all.

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