When the producers of Saturday Night Live invited Charles Barkley to return as guest host, they knew he wasn't an actor nor great at enunciating when he speaks. Therefore, it would be peevish of me to criticize his performance on these grounds. So I won’t! (But ... if he were an actor, enunciation would be something he could work on.)
Unlike other sports figures who only get one chance to host the show for the novelty of it, though, Barkley brings some great qualities to the gig: He’s obviously funny in his bones, and he’s not self-conscious about making himself look goofy (for instance: by appearing in drag, as I predicted he would). Sadly, nothing Barkley did last night matched his classic MacGruber sketch of a few years ago. But the episode did have a few great moments Barkley can be proud of.
Best Use of Two Charles Barkleys:
SNL cast member Kenan Thompson has been doing an impression of Barkley for several years, so (as I predicted) having the real Barkley on the show gave producers a chance to put Thompson as Barkley opposite Barkley as another NBA superstar — Barkley’s new NBA on TNT co-commentator Shaquille O’Neal. The result is hilarious even to someone who’s never watched a second of TV basketball analysis (me).
Best Commercial Parody:
TV ads that list drug side effects have long provided fruitful material for SNL parodies (see: Annuale). But just because this riff on the anti-smoking drug Chantix isn’t entirely original doesn’t mean it isn’t funny.
Second-Best Commercial Parody:
Does it seem to you like there is already an absurdly high number of college football “Bowls”? Well, even more sponsors want to get in on the action, according to this parody ad.
Worst Political Sketch:
With Tuesday’s Iowa caucus, the Republican race has finally gotten serious, and THIS is the sketch producers decided was the best way to open the episode? Andy Samberg’s Rick Santorum impression is so-so at best, and this monologue feels endless. You can hear that the live audience isn’t into it, either. (I predicted that the episode would open with Kristen Wiig as Michele Bachmann, talking about ending her campaign; a version of that sketch occurred during "Weekend Update" and was much funnier than this Santorum business.)
Worst Recurring Character:
I wouldn’t have guessed that the satin-clad dandy Lord Wyndemere (Paul Brittain) would be such a fan favorite that someone would decide we needed to see him more than once. But I guess the thought of contrasting his tiny frame with Barkley’s bulk was irresistible.
Worst Period Piece:
Maybe this goof on the Mayan calendar — which allegedly predicts the end of the world later this year — would have gone over better if the chief were not played by Barkley, who by this late point in the episode (which was pushed even later by an NFL overrun) seemed tired. But we’ll never know.