How 'Saturday Night Live' got country wrong with Blake Shelton

Country music -- it's very popular! But perhaps not among the 'SNL' writing staff

Have the people at "Saturday Night Live" ever seen an episode of "The Voice"?

Considering they're both NBC properties that regularly feature musical guests, I would've assumed so. But this weekend's episode of "SNL" made me wonder if that's the case.

The host was Blake Shelton, the successful country singer known for his string of hit singles — including "Sure Be Cool If You Did," "Boys 'Round Here" and "Neon Light" — and his high-profile marriage to Miranda Lambert, with whom he's set to headline April's Stagecoach festival in Indio.

Simply put, the guy's a big, familiar star — big and familiar enough, in fact, that NBC hired him for "The Voice," where he's been a member of the coaching panel since the hit singing show's debut in 2011. "The Voice" comes back from hiatus next month, which of course is the reason "SNL" booked Shelton in the first place.

Yet so much about Saturday's episode suggested that the venerable sketch comedy series had just discovered Shelton — and along with him the whole of country music, which is by some measurements the most popular genre in the United States.

To start, there was the singer's opening monologue, in which he and several cast members sought to reproduce the down-home charm of what Shelton said was the only comedy show he watched growing up in Oklahoma: "Hee Haw."

That's a promising concept, sure. And as usual, Shelton was dispensing charisma by the bucketload.

"For those of you who don't know me, I'm kind of like the Justin Bieber of country music," he said, his eyes twinkling characteristically. "Just a little troublemakin' cutie."

But the "Hee Haw" bit itself — full of obligatory gags about incest and a jug of presumably homemade "giggle juice" — oozed coastal condescension, as though the audience were being introduced to some exotic species uncovered in a remote village by the "SNL" writing staff.

Country music has tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of fans. It hasn't represented anything close to a regional cultural tradition in, like, 25 years. So why was Shelton used to present an unfunny explainer?

"SNL" got it slightly more right (or maybe slightly less wrong) in "Wishin' Boot," a would-be viral video lampooning the genre's weakness for redemption narratives.

Even here, though, what might've been a knowing spoof of a feel-good tune like Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" goes sour at the end when the show's Kate McKinnon stage-whispers to Shelton about how much money the song is likely to make.

Is country music ripe for skewering? As ripe as ripe gets. But parody minus understanding and affection that just feels nasty, y'all.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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