SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE – SEASON 40, EPISODE 12
I do not care for country music. The fact that it’s the fastest growing genre is completely irrelevant to me. Unlike many other people nowadays, I still say that I am a fan of everything except country. It just doesn’t do it for me. This obviously means that I don’t listen to Blake Shelton and have zero interest in doing so. I literally never heard about him until The Voice, and even then I was like, “Who the hell’s Blake Shelton?” I’m sure a lot of country fans are really pumped for this episode which is great for them. Shelton’s a massive star and this is his first time ever appearing on the show. I just hope that, for everyone else’s sake, Shelton can bring the funny. Being a talented musician doesn’t always make you a gifted actor. Especially on a show like Saturday Night Live.
Since Shelton is a country superstar, SNL chose to make nearly the entire show a country themed bonanza. This obviously involved plenty of singing or references to basic country stereotypes. So perhaps it’s fitting that one of the better bits of the night was “Wishing Boot”, a musical performance about a magical boot. Now I clearly don’t know a lot about the genre, but I’m surprised someone hasn’t actually made a song like this. It’s such a ridiculous premise that it actually works. A mystical boot that bestows pizza, can become a dog, and get absorbed for extra power? Sounds like something that would be right up my alley. Plus, Shelton, Kate McKinnon, and Aidy Bryant were a great trio to sing this song.
That send-up of The Shawshank Redemption came completely out of left field, but I enjoyed it. Changing one of that film’s classic scenes to a discussion about why Red (Kenan Thompson) should stay in prison because he’s a cannibal was pretty clever. As the skit got even more absurd, I found myself laughing even harder. The best part was easily when Bobby Moynihan’s character asked Red what he wanted as a final meal. “One man please,” Red aptly replied. When they refused that, he declared he would settle for two children. Crazy morbid and yet humorous all the same, mainly because of the delivery.
“Farm Hunk” is a prime example of the host backing away and letting the cast take over. In this case it was the hilarious ladies of SNL. The basic premise was Shelton’s Iowa born country boy looking for love on a farm version of The Bachelor. He delivered some solid jokes about how his small town has practically nothing, but the real winners were when the women came in with escalating issues or requests. Also, they all dabbled in porn for a while! My favorite by far was, unsurprisingly, McKinnon who came with a handful of spaghetti, a macaw, and a blowtorch to win Shelton’s favor. Close behind her was Bryant who always started chipper and then quickly devolved into a major breakdown to hilarious effect.
Sketches like “Family Feud Celebrity Edition” primarily serve to get as many impersonations as possible and that’s it. The fact that it was parodying Family Feud was totally inconsequential, as it is every time this airs. What we got essentially was Kenan Thompson’s Steve Harvey doing a roll call of cast members to give their impressions for a few seconds. Unfortunately very few of those hit home. Kyle Mooney was perhaps my favorite as Steven Tyler because the energy was there, but McKinnon and Cecily Strong were severely underutilized as Keith Urban and Christina Aguilera. That ending was completely horrible too. Shelton calls Taran Killam’s Adam Levine a pretty boy and the two duck away for an implied make out session, for some reason. If you ever need an example of a skit that the writers couldn’t think of a proper ending for, this is it.
Oh Weekend Update. It is so easy for you to be great one week and disappointing the next. Case in point, last night’s Update was awkward and filled with bombs. One was so bad that Michael Che felt compelled to say “Riblet everybody” as a means to fill the laughless void. Talk about poor recovery. It also didn’t help that Riblet, a new character for Bobby Moynihan, had more energy than both Colin Jost and Che combined. He brought some much needed humor while Jost and Che failed to deliver. Pete Davidson came by again to play himself, once again proving he’s one of the strongest and more confident featured players on the cast. Sasheer Zamata also had an enjoyable turn as Che’s ex-girlfriend Nicole. Yet not even three funny guests could salvage this generally disappointing Update.
The ten-to-one skit completely tanked. In this final sketch, Killam played a magician who captivates Shelton into believing magic is real. It started off with some promise, specifically Shelton asking for absurd gifts like machine gun hands or to be black for a day. I laughed at all of that! Yet after about the twentieth time of Shelton repeating his demands, the whole skit had grown stale. Plus, Shelton missed a line fairly early into the sketch. He literally sat there staring for several seconds before actually saying something. It was pretty bizarre.
When this episode ended, I was ready to give it a low score based on Shelton’s performance. He did very little to amp up sketches and rarely went beyond simply existing as a means to keep the content moving. But then I realized that’s what we should expect from his turn, and suddenly his quality goes up significantly. Shelton’s not an actor so expecting him to suddenly become a comedic star is entirely unreasonable. The best we can ask of him is to not be terrible and he actually wasn’t. His delivery was confident, he made few mistakes, and he was a great person for the cast members to bounce their humor off of. It also helped that the show managed to use Shelton’s main strength (his singing) to their advantage. “Wishing Boot” was hilarious and “Topeka Today,” though not in my top three, was highly enjoyable. You really can only view Shelton as a big success with this in mind. The guy did it and was clearly incredibly grateful to be there.
The show as a whole though needed some work. There were some really funny jokes but a lot of what came on screen fell flat. The ten-to-one “Magician” sketch would have benefited more from someone who wasn’t a straight man. The Weekend Update had smatterings of greatness but was mostly a dud. The monologue featured some humorous one liners but was marred by direction issues (it was all to make Leslie Jones happy?). “Patriots Press Conference” could have been hilarious if Dougie Spoons (Moynihan) kept arguing with McKinnon’s reporter, but instead we had about five minutes of basic Deflategate jokes. When the sketches did work though, they worked well, and so this episode gets a solid “good” rating.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.