This was a live blog of the January 9, 2009 episode of Saturday Night Live that former NBA player and current commentator Charles Barkley hosted. Live reactions are accompanied by the time when it aired on the West Coast, and a sketch rating concludes the post. If you missed the show, most of the episode (except for Alicia Keys) was posted on Hulu.
11:31 PM: Cold Open: U.S. is doubling its support of $70 million to Yemen for security purposes, but the President of Yemen (Fred Armisen) is confused on what the money is to be used for, much to General Petraeus’ (Will Forte) chagrin:
“More al-Queda!” he declared.
“No, less al-Queda.”
Not a bad sketch. But here comes Charles Barkley’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live in 16 years…
The show didn’t start until after the NFL playoff game, meaning the clock shows a time past midnight.
11:36 PM: Monologue: Honesty from Charles, calling out his drinking and gambling problems, as well as his arrest.
11:37 PM: Charles Barkley looked at the hosts last year, and only 1 out of 32 hosts were black (“2 if you count The Rock, but he’s not black, he’s Samoan”), which is “the same ratio of black to white people of the people who saw It’s Complicated.
11:38 PM: Charles Barkley: “I’ve been in the NBA for a long while. I know a freaky white girl when I see it.”
11:38 PM: Charles Barkley to Kenan Thompson: “I’ve been watching. Do it! Do me!” Kenan Thompson obliges and does his Charles Barkley impression, like I predicted.
11:39 PM: Fake advertisement: Thomas Peepers Insurance. An insurance agent (Bill Hader) peeks through windows to keep families safe. “You’ll be safe, because we’re watching you, even in the middle of the night. You pay nothing, but we’re there. We’re keeping an eye on you.”
11:44 PM: Reel Quotes: Sam Jefferson (Charles Barkley) manages a Blockbuster on a game show that quizzes contestants on movie quotes.
11:44 PM: Question: “What we have here is a failure to…”
11:44 PM: Charles Barkley: “LAUNCH!”
11:45 PM: Question: “You can’t handle…”
11:45 PM: Charles Barkley: “My privates!”
11:45 PM: Bill Hader: That’s not correct.
11:46 PM: Charles Barkley: The correct answer is “the truth.” I did tell you the truth, you still can’t handle my privates!
11:46 PM: Bill Hader: “We’re gonna need a bigger… ”
11:46 PM: Charles Barkley: “Shark! Shark bag!”
11:46 PM: Bill Hader: “Think water…”
11:47 PM: Charles Barkley: “Ocean! If the ocean is bigger, the shark will be smaller, and then the joke will be on the shark!”
11:47 PM: Bill Hader: “I was looking for ‘boat.'”
11:47 PM: Charles Barkley: “You should go to a marina.”
11:47 PM: Bill Hader: “I’m not looking for a boat.”
11:47 PM: Charles Barkley: Reg, you gotta start talking about riddles.
11:48 PM: It is revealed that Barkley works for Blockbusters, we demolish city blocks. Which explains why he responds, “If you build it… we will knock it down!” In fact, it’s on the back of his jacket.
11:49 PM: It’s time for the bonus round:
“Houston , we have a…” “Arby’s!”
“I see people.” “Two people: you and Rebecca.”
“Life is like a box of…” “Dead people!”
“May the force be…” “Equal to mass times acceleration!”
11:49 PM: “How do you know that?” “I’m not stupid, Reg.”
11:49 PM: Reg’s closing line: “Here’s looking at you, kid” which evokes the response, “You shouldn’t be looking at kids, Reg.”
11:54 PM: MacGruber: MacGruber (Will Forte) is having a problem dealing with African Americans, especially with the new African American cast member (Barkley). Don’t know MacGruber? Think MacGyver, but failing at the last second. Take a look:
11:54 PM: People at a ski lodge are waiting for the hot girl Shana to show up.
11:55 PM: The sketch features another terrible Kristen Wiig character: cute girl who speaks in high voice and does things in an un-sexy way (“Shana,” last seen when John Malkovich hosted in December 2008). Blueprint for most of Kristen Wiig’s characters: funny voice (usually an octave higher) + annoying quirk + repeat the same minute quirk for the entire sketch.
12:00 AM: Charles Barkley can’t pronounce “snowmobile.” Also of note, Charles Barkley doesn’t know what he should do with his hands during the entire sketch. He has them awkwardly folded over his chest during the sketch, like he’s protecting his TNT paycheck before his bookies take it away.
12:01 AM: MacGruber goes to a sensitivity class after telling a racist joke during the previous MacGruber “episode.” He asks Barkley (still mispronouncing “Darnell”) to hand him a specific pen: either black, yellow, or red, but he’s having trouble coming up with the words to do so: “Hand me the African American pen, er, the Negro pen, no!, the Negro American pen.” Barkley: “Just call it a black pen!” MacGruber: “So now it’s okay!?”
12:02 AM: Barkley begins to hand over the pen, and MacGruber immediately assumes that “he’s got a gun!” and proceeds to pepper spray him.
12:02 AM: As part of their “Wishmakers” program, NBA on TNT (Charles Barkley and Jason Sudeikis) lets a kid with a terminal disorder go in the broadcast booth with them. The kid (Andy Samberg) doesn’t know anything about basketball, but they let it go because of his illness. The sketch setup is the same premise as a sketch from the January 2007 episode hosted by Jeremy Piven, where the kid visited the broadcast booth of a football playoff game, saying “That’ll move the chains” a number of times before dying due to ADD (“Automatic Death Disease”).
12:04 AM: Barkley starts losing it. He’s trying desperately to hold back his laughter. My guess is that he’s thinking back to the Jeremy Piven sketch, as it was a lot funnier than the one he was currently in.
12:05 AM: Barkley goes off on the kid when he learns that he has “OCD,” only to learn that it stood for “Overwhelming Corpse Disease.” The kid even uses the line, “that’ll move the chains,” for no purpose other than to call back to the sketch three years ago.
12:06 AM: MacGruber: MacGruber took some time off to learn more about African culture, including a trip to Africa. He is now dressed in traditional African attire.
12:07 AM: MacGruber can neither pronounce Darrell, nor Martin Luther King, Jr., but he has a fairly dramatic speech talking about African culture, culminating in offering to shake hands with Darrell. He open white hand is about to met with Darrell’s black one, but then he jumps to his old conclusion of “he’s got a gun!”
12:32 AM: The Haney Project features golf expert Hank Haney (Jason Sudeikis) attempts to fix Charles Barkley’s golf swing, which according to Haney, looks like Barkley had a “heart attack mid-swing, then miraculously recovered.”
12:34 AM: Haney hired a camera crew to follow Barkley to watch him in other activities, in which he has the same problems with them as well, such as putting a magnet on the fridge, or icing a wedding cake.
12:38 AM: SNL Digital Short: Alicia Keys calls Andy Samberg for a booty call, but he’s in the middle of a situation that doesn’t merit answering a phone call.
12:50 AM: Scared Straight: Lorenzo Macintosh, Sr. (Charles Barkley) and oft-recurring character Lorenzo Macintosh, Jr. (Kenan Thompson) attempt to “scare straight” teenage mini-criminals (Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Bobby Moynihan) by teaching “life lessons” from prison, which end up being plot summaries from movies. When called out about this detail, they quickly jump to gay sexual double entendres. Barkley asks, “Let me guess what these kids are here for: cannibalism!”
12:51 AM: Police officer (Jason Sudeikis): “That’s a terrible guess!”
12:52 AM: Throughout the sketch, Charles Barkley continues his parade of awkward positions with the “folded arms,” intended to look angry, I guess.
12:58 AM: Fake advertisement for Barkley’s Bank, which promises investors to either “double it or lose it all.” One testimonial featured a family that gave their life savings to Barkley’s, where he asked him to pick their favorite color, then refined his question to choose between “red or black.” They lost their life savings, or as the motto for the bank says, “You win some, you lose some.”
Rating the sketches:
Cold Open: Not bad. The reactions were pretty funny between Petraeus and the Yemen president, especially on the confusion to discourage terrorism, and not encourage it. B.
Monologue: Charles Barkley airs his dirty laundry, while getting in some zingers at SNL‘s lack of diversity. I’ll point out that his delivery of lines are not great, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt for the episode. This monologue had some great writing and gave me some hope for the episode. A-.
Thomas Peepers Insurance: Bill Hader gives off a “weird, creepy guy” vibe, and this fits that persona perfectly. A.
Reel Quotes: The non-sequiturs of Barkley’s character were great, as well as some of his quips to the host. A.
MacGruber I: The return of MacGruber. Unlike most other SNL fans, I don’t mind the character at all, and while this one wasn’t funny, it provided the setup for the jokes to come in MacGrubers II and III (below). B-.
Shana at a Ski Lodge: Kristen Wiig has about a dozen characters that I don’t like (Gilly, Penelope, Sue, and the Target Lady, just to name a few), and Shana is one of them. It wasn’t funny when it was on the show about a year ago, it isn’t funny now. Charles Barkley delivers very few lines in this one and the setup is getting very tired: put three characters in the same room, side-by-side, then introduce a quirky character to the room, while their horrified reactions are captured on camera. The first true miss of the night. F.
MacGruber II: The question of what to call a black pen when asking for one from a black guy is an interesting setup for MacGruber and the “he’s got a gun!” line was unexpected and hilarious. The clincher line, “Hand me that Asian pen!” seals a great MacGruber. A.
NBA on TNT “Wishmakers:” Another recurring sketch, but I liked this one the first time around when it first appeared about three years ago. This one however, was not as funny as the first, especially since a lot of the comedy was found in the tensions between the two sports commentators, with one trying to be the calming influence over the infuriated other. Barkley is limited to as few lines as possible, a move to reduce the chance of him bursting out laughing in this sketch (which happened anyway). The lines were stale (more than one line was ripped directly from the first time this sketch appeared) and lacked the comedic tension found in the first. Some lines were still funny, but overall, this one flopped for me. C-.
MacGruber III: I thought this one would end in the middle of MacGruber’s monologue, but instead ends when he assumes that Darrell has a gun. The surprise alone made this one a keeper, but not as funny as the second one tonight. B+.
Weekend Update: The jokes are hit-and-miss, the James Carville impression is good as always, but it didn’t do much for me. The Nicolas Cage had really good lines, though. An average “Weekend Update.” C+.
The Haney Project: A real-life endeavor (Hank Haney once said, “Charles’ swing looked worse than Helen Keller trying to read.”), the Haney Project tried desperately to fix Barkley’s golf swing. Taking his real-life golf swing into other areas was funny, but I think there could have been more places to go with this, either in different situations, or showing how he has changed the swing but it is somehow worse. Interesting concept, not great follow-through (like Barkley’s golf stroke). B-.
SNL Digital Short: Alicia Keys provided an interesting contrast to the nerdy, possibly-gay Andy Samberg character, but the twist was the only thing funny about the actual short. C+.
Scared Straight: I think this one is the seventh in the line of “Scared Straight” sketches, but this one is very, very tired. It suffers from the same setup as the “Shana” sketch earlier, with three people, mostly relying on reaction shots. Barkley cracks up in this one, too. Some of the sexual innuendos were somewhat funny, but I’ve grown tired of this sketch and would rather see a novel idea that flopped rather than this one which was moderately successful. C.
Barkley’s Bank: The obvious jab at Barkley’s gambling (alluded to in one of the promos) in sketch form. This one probably could have been longer with more testimonials, but was still a funny concept, including some wordplay on “Barclays,” the international banking firm. I wish this was expanded upon further, but it was still a decent sketch. B-.
Overall: Charles Barkley well exceeded my expectations. He’s not an actor, so I won’t fault him for the flat delivery of his lines, the obvious reading of the cue cards, or the awkward positioning of his arms during sketches. However, compared to the rest of this Saturday Night Live season, this one is one of the best, especially considering some of the duds of the season I’ve seen. Barkley had some solid sketches with some great lines, but some of the tired recurring sketches snuck in, bringing the overall quality down. Barkley only “broke” (started laughing in a scene) twice in the entire night, which is not nearly as bad as some of the performers have done in the past (Bill Hader broke more tonight than Barkley did, and he’s a cast regular), such as Horatio Sanz, who managed to laugh seemingly every time the camera was on him. Congratulations to Charles Barkley for hosting a such a solid show. B.