Country superstar and The Voice coach extraordinaire Blake Shelton knows what he's good at – that would be singing – which is probably why the five-time Grammy nominee spent his first episode hosting Saturday Night Live belting out so many jams. Instead of relying on Shelton's acting skills or comedic chops to win laughs, the sketch show frequently cast him as a singer or shoved a guitar into his hands for some mild comedy. Shelton played so many different troubadours during the episode, including a country singer who sort of looks like Blake Shelton (but with blond hair and a mustache), a strummer on a local morning television show, and actually Blake Shelton, that by the time Shelton took to SNL's music stage to croon his own songs, it seemed as if the show had already been through enough musical numbers to last for six episodes.
A relatively slim outing in terms of quantity – there were only nine sketches this week, and SNL usually tops out around eleven or twelve per episode, and even "Weekend Update" ran uncharacteristically long, featuring a rare three guests – last night's show stretched out its material to confusing effect. Heavy on the pop cultural nods, from a somewhat amusing spin on The Bachelor to a weird twist on Shawshank Redemption, the episode proved to be a weak one in a mostly strong season. Still, there were at least three sketches worth watching, and not all of them needed a song to make them dance.
Patriots Press Conference
There was no way Saturday Night Live wasn't going to address the week's biggest – or is it the week's most deflated? – story, the currently raging (and terrifically named) Deflategate. Instead of hanging the show's opening sketch on a bunch of people talking about "underinflated balls" until the word "balls" loses all meaning, SNL turned its attention to great celebrity impressions.
Beck Bennett's take on Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was uncanny and awfully amusing, especially when he blithely threw star quarterback Tom Brady under the bus (Bennett's deadpan confession that Brady blabbed to him, "I'm finally gonna do something about those damn footballs!" might have been a small moment, but it was a strong one). And while Taran Killam's take on Tom Brady isn't new, he's never gone quite so deep (long?) with this particular impression before. Touchdown! Fine, yes, Bobby Moynihan did show up during the sketch's closing moments to say "balls" a whole bunch, but he also played a guy named "Dougie Spoons," which was somehow more amusing than a bunch of grown men talking about the size of their balls and how they got to that level. Balls. Balls balls balls.
"Blake Shelton's Hee-Haw Monologue"
Blake Shelton might not have a background in comedy, but the country boy was eager to let his audience know that he really does have a strong appreciation for the art of televised sketch comedy. After all, the man grew up watching Hee-Haw (which Shelton quite accurately and cannily described as a combination of Laugh-In and Deliverance).
Most of the cast appeared on stage to support Shelton and his feel-good memories about the Hee-Haw of his youth, only to crush them into the ground with crass jokes and off-color humor. Shelton played along pretty gamely, happily strumming his guitar while his childhood went up in nostalgic flames all around him. Throw in some bonus Leslie Jones sporting a pair of wicked pigtails, and this is a fairly strong opening monologue for anyone, especially a newbie like Shelton.
"Celebrity Family Feud With Blake Shelton"
Well, here's one way to make an inexperienced host feel right at home: cast them as themselves. Anyone can play themselves, even under the bright lights of live television! While Shelton happily pretended to be himself – or, at least a slightly tweaked version of television Blake Shelton – the rest of the cast got to break out some celebrity impressions.
Imagined as a game show face-off between the hosts of American Idol and The Voice (can we actually make this happen, like in real life?), the stage was positively swollen with high-note-hitting impersonations, from Cecily Strong’s big-haired Christina Aguilera to Sasheer Zamata's somewhat terrifying Nicki Minaj to Taran Killam’s squeaky-voiced Adam Levine. This may have just been an excuse to have fun with various famous personas, but at least it was an amusing one.