‘Saturday Night Live’: did Charles Barkley’s show deliver?

How was the show this week?

When Charles Barkley was first revealed to be the host of “Saturday Night Live,” we tried to look at it with some cautious optimism. When it comes to the world of sportscasting, Barkley may be the funniest guy on just about any TV show. His quotes on “Inside the NBA” pretty much make the post-game festivities worth watching, and his bold predictions actually end up coming true more often than most people would admit.

On a show where he is not being paid to talk about basketball, however, Charles is a bit hit-or-miss. His first two hosting gigs on “SNL” were mediocre at best, and in a way it was a surprise to see him back the first time. He’s not a natural actor, and the gimmick was therefore gone.

When looking at the highlights for this “third time’s the charm edition,” the real highlights came when Charles was in his comfort zone. Dressing up like Shaquille O’Neal was a moment that drew more than just a few belly laughs, mostly because we are already aware of the love / hate relationship that these two have going on. The same goes for his own “iPhone app” commercial that saw him making fun of postgame interviews featuring everyone from Rex Ryan to himself — unless you are a sports fan, this segment was probably a bit too referential for your liking (though the Ryan commentary was particularly hilarious). In stepping out of his element, the sketch featuring the Mayan calendar actually did prove that Barkley has some talent outside of sports-related humor.

Thanks in part to these three sketches, we were able to better forget what was easily Barkley’s worst moment of the night — dressing up in a dress in a “coming out”-themed sketch that was not only a little offensive, but it also didn’t go anywhere. It was also as if the writers decided to put the man in a dress and then just take a nap for about three minutes. Not only did Barkley not get any laughs out of this, every person who ever played basketball with him is going to ridicule him for it for the rest of his life.

In moving away from Barkley, the show brought us by and large some solid fare in Andy Samberg’s cold open (showing off a pretty nuanced take on Rick Santorum, his sweater vest, and his own last name) along with the return of Bobby Moynihan’s always-welcome Drunk Uncle during Weekend Update. (Kristen Wiig’s Michele Bachmann was also pretty fantastic.) It’s almost enough to make up for the Digital Short, which once again this week continued a sad trend of it sliding further and further down the quality abyss. The days of “Michael Bolton” and “Motherlover” already seem so far gone. Kelly Clarkson was the only great moment related to music on the show this week, and thankfully she did not disappoint with “Stronger” and “Mr. Know-It-All.”

Barkley’s show certainly was not the best thing that “SNL” has brought us this season, but it was also better than a few others mostly in that there were only a few duds (such as Sir Charles in drag) mixed in to some solid comedy. Strangely, the one thing that may stick with us out of the whole show was a gracious Barkley actually bringing the crew out on stage to remind all of the viewers just how much work they put in to making this show a success. It’s something we really don’t see enough of on television these days, and it also proves that the show’s affable host for the week is a big guy who also just so happens to have a big heart.

Photo: NBC

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