Athlete hosts are always hit-or-miss on "Saturday Night Live," and Charles Barkley has proven that all by himself in three previous attempts on the show. He keeps getting invited back because he's game for just about anything, but he's also stiff and awkward and not great at reading from the teleprompter or memorizing his lines. Really, in order to have a truly successful show, Sir Charles needs the ensemble to step up and help him look good as he doesn't quite have enough of that spark to do it himself, and they've certainly done it in the past.
His inclusion in the first episode back after the Olympics is a little odd, though, as he doesn't really have anything to promote or any real reason for doing the show. Apparently, he's well-liked by Lorne Michaels because he keeps coming back over and over again. This week, he once again proved he was willing to tackle just about anything they threw at him, but the writers kind of let him down.
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Cold Open and the regular "Weekend Update" segments. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny - unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.
MONOLOGUE - Charles Barkley
"I'm hosting 'Saturday Night Live' for no reason, other than Lorne Michaels wanted somebody to talk to about 'Black Panther,'" Charles Barkley said to kick off his monologue. You'd think he'd have knocked some of the stiffness out of his delivery after 30 years, but alas. Watching his monologue made us realize Kenan Thompson has way too much charisma in his parody portrayal of the NBA legend. We appreciated his message about "ath-uh-letes" using their voices to speak out on important issues affecting minorities, we just wish he hadn't used his voice. It was ... painfully bad to watch, and it only got worse when Michael Che showed up with four times his personality in a ten second appearance.
Hump or Dump
"Let's just say it's in everybody's best interest you pick me," Charles Barkley said as one of three bachelors trying to pick up Aidy Bryant on this game show parody. What a weird sketch this turned out to be, with Charles threatening to kill himself if he wasn't picked. Kenan Thompson offered him mental health assistance, but he said he was just playing to win. But when he didn't, it was just awkward and sad as he said he was going to stand by his word and do it and the sketch just kind of petered out. We can see this one not going over well with the mental health industry. Plus, it wasn't particularly clever or funny because it never went anywhere.
"It's really upsetting to be here tonight," Alex Moffat said in this sketch all about sexual harassment, with awards like "Handsiest Actor" , while Pete Davidson came out as a nominee for "Most Open Robe" and admitted he had no shame. The sketch really had nothing to say, other than implying that all men are awful, including all of the male co-hosts on the red carpet, who kept getting exposed for their own wrongdoing. The sketch itself just kind of lingered and didn't seem to have a plan other than trying to list all the different kids of harassment in five minutes
Colin Jost came out strong with jokes about White House Communications Director Hope Hicks bailing, while Michael Che stumbled badly trying to talk about gun control and hunting. It was an unexpected tirade against the very idea that hunting is considered a sport, but Che botched the delivery so much, the joke died. Later, Cecily Strong came on as Hope Hicks, who thought the media was nice to her because she was pretty. This also meant Strong had nothing to hang her impression on, so she just played up her youthfulness by acting like a teenager saying goodbye after a long vacation. It was more than a little underwhelming.
Kyle Mooney then came out as himself to talk about the Oscars, but there was so much of his Bruce Chandling standup comedian character in there, it was a little jarring. His bit was just about wanting to hang with the boys at an Oscars party and getting snubbed by them over his off-brand shoes. The best moment came when he thought they made $8/hour, which wasn't even that great. Thankfully, Leslie Jones came out to offer an update on her Olympics experience, joined by gold medalist hockey player Hilary Knight, who she had tell Colin, "You's a bitch!" So it almost redeemed itself into a decent installment. Almost.
Alec Baldwin gave a very relaxed portrayal of Donald Trump for the latest cold open, coming out of the Olympics. It was the show's first chance to catch up on all the shenanigans, so he was basically running down a list of all the silliness that's come out of the White House, including flip-flopping over gun control, reading "I hear you" off of a written note, and even Trump's boasts of running into active shooting situations to save everyone.
“Something has to change. We have to take a hard look at mental health, which I have so much of. I have one of the healthiest mentals. My mentals are so high, but we have to respect the law," Baldwin's Trump said in reference to the latest gun control debate. "Believe me, no one loves the second amendment and due process more than me. But maybe we just take everyone's guns away. Nobody is allowed to have a gun -- not even whites."
He threw in a few jokes about tossing "Little Rocket Man" over the "Great Wall of Korea," and lamented that "Wakanda is laughing at us." The sketch was full of funny little moments, but it was almost too stream-of-consciousness to really offer any big laughs. They'd have been better served to have a focus for his attention and the jokes rather than a recap format where they tried to be and do everything.
A public access hotline show for grade schoolers to call in and get help is derailed immediately by every caller asking about Charles Barkley having sex with his puppet sidekick. As to how they're getting on the air, Aidy Bryant said, "Well, they lie to me and the Lord will judge them for it." Mikey Day was a fun treat as the long-haired puppeteer who got a little testy out of character. The sketch worked best when Aidy remained clueless and Charles all too aware as caller after caller abused the system, so we were disappointed when he got the puppet to rub his pants leg to create friction. It broke the successfully narrative of a show trying to do good getting derailed by awful people ... sounds like everything that tries to happen on the Internet.
"The only thing that can stop a bad roach is a good roach with a gun," and Charles Barkley's good roaches are armed with mini-AR-15s. The animated footage is ... kind of gross, with roaches lighting up the cabinets with gunfire. This is how you make a statement through comedy. Whether you agree with the anti-NRA stance or not, this is a clever parody that gets you thinking about a larger issue through allegory. It's pretty fundamental comedy, but somehow "SNL" has missed that mark a lot on the evening with their straightforward and lackluster looks at Trump and harassment thus far. This was far smarter and thus more effective.
Charle Barkley partnered with Kate McKinnon's recurring character of a woman so desperate at the end of the night she's finally ready to go home with the last guy in the bar. We've seen it so many times, but it's always kind of funny watching her and some other loser talk about the horrible night they have ahead of them when they've given up all hope of hooking up with someone they're actually attracted to, while Kenan Thompson's bartender just wishes he didn't have to witness it. "Are you as soft as I am dry?" Kate asked Charles. "I'm ungorged," he responded. It got even more ridiculous, and no one could keep a straight face by the end, but at least it remembered to be funny!
What you think is a sketch about construction workers catcalling women and toxic masculinity turns instead into an exploration about how men's fashion is incredibly limited while women really get a chance to shine and express their creativity through their style. The guys started imagining how they'd dress for the Oscars, critiquing one another's ideas while Beck Bennett struggled to escape the male ego. This was the most animated Charles Barkley and the rest of the cast were in a piece that was playful and fun, while still making a satirical statement about a topical issue. That's how you do it!
Mikey Day hosted a roundtable with sports' greats like Charles Barkley, Alex Rodriguez (as himself), and DC Timmons (Kenan Thompson) -- who seems to have suffered the most head injuries. What started as a debate quickly became acceptance that football is clearly the worst sport because Kenan can barely string a sentence together. The sketch worked as a solid statement about the risks of repeated concussions, including a scathing statement about how long each of their careers were. Props to Charles for acknowledging his last four seasons in Houston should probably only count as one, while DC played nine games over seven seasons. Yikes! Also, is anyone working on his order?
The longest-running member of the cast had his biggest spotlight of the season in a very uneven show. Kenan Thompson is a reliable performer in his fifteenth season, and someone you can always count on to ring a laugh out of whatever role he's playing, so it makes sense he'd stand out when no one else is. The guy is a pro. His reactionary bartender elevated the insanity of the "Last Call" sketch, while his concussion-laden football player really brought together the night's strongest sketch, "The Champions." He had a busy night, appearing in multiple sketches as the reliable straight man, proving that his comedic wit is as sharp as ever. At this point, Kenan is on this show as long as he wants, and he doesn't look ready to stop anytime soon.
"Saturday Night Live" returns next week with host Sterling K. Brown and musical guest James Bay, airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.