We're still not entirely clear on the reasons that Lorne Michaels decided to book Charles Barkley as the host of this week's Saturday Night Live. It's not that we don't love the Round Mound of Rebound, it's just that we figured Lorne would've waited until the Olympics were over to fulfill his self-instituted quota of having one sports figure host per season. Then again, maybe he surveyed the potential breakout stars of this Olympiad (Lindsey Vonn, anyone?) and decided that Sir Charles was his best bet. Regardless of the vetting process, Barkley returned to the stage of Studio 8H last night for the first time since 1993. And you know what? It was one of the better athlete-hosted episodes in recent memory.
As anyone who watches his work for the NBA on TNT will attest, Barkley is one of the more charismatic personalities in the world of broadcasting (and we're not just limiting that to sports broadcasting). He possesses a quick laugh, a big smile and also has a very easygoing manner about him, three traits which can go a long way towards covering up any deficiencies that an SNL host may have when it comes to dramatic chops. Take, for instance his work alongside Kenan Thompson in another installment of the "Scared Straight" series of sketches:
You see, Barkley was smart enough to cede the heavy lifting in this skit to the talented Thompson, but was able to step up when it counts: His delivery of the "Blow you for free" line brought the house (and Jason Sudeikis) down. He also proved to be an interesting foil for MacGruber in this short's long-awaited return and helped MacGruber come to terms with his not-so-subtle racist streak.
And when viewing things through the prism of unintentional humor, we haven't seen anyone flop sweat as much as Sir Charles did in the Ski Bunny sketch since the night that Jimmy Fallon debuted as host of NBC's Late Night franchise.
So while Barkley did a perfectly serviceable job hosting the show, let's just take a moment to recognize that Alicia Keys was the true star of the show. And no, we're not talking about her digital short (which was definitely no Shy Ronnie); rather, her performances of both "Empire State of Mind II" and "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart" flat out OWNED. She is one of those rare performers to grace the SNL stage who is able to connect with both the audience in the studio and people watching at home.