Posted by Jesse January 10th, 2010 at 06:23pm In SNL
Expectations for sports-star hosts of Saturday Night Live are already low, but SNL threw a curve ball of sorts by booking for their year/decade kickoff not just a sports star, but a sports star who no longer plays sports and, indeed, remains in the national consciousness primarily due to, in descending order, (1.) his unlawful transgressions, (2.) the goofy stuff he says, and (3.) Kenan Thompson’s occasional and hilarious impersonation of him on, hey, Saturday Night Live. The choice of Barkley
It also made me about any number of inauspicious records, such as: when was the last time a long-retired sports star hosted, if ever? (I am too lazy slash sports illiterate to look this up and say for sure, but every sportsman or sportslady I can recall hosting since I began watching the show circa 1992 has been pretty current.) Was this also the greatest amount of time lapsed between a first hosting gig and a second, with sixteen-plus years passing after Barkley’s first shot back in 1993? (Trivia: Phil Hartman and Mike Myers were still in the cast; Nirvana was the musical guest; Barney jokes were still sort of amusing; “Office Space” was still a cartoon — and, to be fair to the carping that’s about to commence, at least four of the sketches were recurring bits.) If so, Buck Henry ought to turn up and smash that record to pieces.
In the meantime, we got a stumbly, stiff, and often weirdly hilarious Charles Barkley, who touched upon many of my points (length since previous hosting gig; troubles with the law; Kenan’s impression) in a surprisingly funny monologue. That marked the only appearance of Kenan’s Barkley impression, which he did sans makeup for about fifteen seconds. Maybe it was just as well, but it also made me wonder why the hell they got Barkley in the first place.
The monologue was funny, though, as were the show’s usual features: the commercial parody (Bill Hader employing his creepy leer to excellent effect in the Peepers Insurance ad); the Digital Short (Andy Samberg plays a dork booty-called by Alicia Keys); Weekend Update (when Armisen’s David Paterson referred to New Jersey smelling like “cheap cologne and raccoons,” I pretty much lost it); and sweet, sweet MacGruber.
The other fundamentals, though, were not only slapdash in that disappointing SNL way of reviving characters for no reason, but actually slapdash in that Charles Barkley way of slightly flubbed lines and missed cues. The show started late due to NFL playoffs, and everyone seemed a little jittery and sloppy; not just Barkley, but the rest of the cast and sometimes the crew. In fact, until I checked online, I thought that the New York affiliate cut off this sketch:
But apparently it only cut out at the very end; either it really was a minute long, or it was truncated at the last minute. In contrast, the second appearance of Kristen Wiig’s potentially-sexy-but-actually-gross character felt stretched out, taking a good minute or two just to get to the central joke (which is a long time to set up a bit most people already know). That was one of four recurring sketches (counting MacGruber) for the night, including the bizarre return of Andy Samberg’s make-a-wish kid turned sports announcer (it was as if they felt obligated to use this bit in Barkley’s presence, even though the sketch first appeared in a Jeremy Piven hosted episode; it’s not some sports-star tradition they needed to wait three years to revive). We also got more Scared Straight; the combination of that plus a shaky night for the cast, of course, meant Bill Hader cracking up again, which is consistently the best thing about this sketch.
Basically, Barkley himself wound up being sort of a highlight because the show let itself sink to the level where his off-kilter delivery was able to salvage some otherwise unremarkable sketches. What was “Reel Quotes” if not Celebrity Jeopardy minus the celebrities? Yet Barkley got some real laughs through his deadpan quote-completions (“We’re gonna need a bigger…” “Shark!” “Shark-bag!” “Ocean!”). Having him host was a weird idea, and the show bumbled right out of it.
Episode Grade: C+