A little late this week so let’s get right to it:
We get it Gwyneth, you can sing! You already proved it with Country Strong, your appearance on Glee and your CMA performance (and with Huey Lewis in Duets ten years ago). But you had to show us again in your monologue, as Taylor Swift in this My Super Sweet Bar Mitzvah sketch, and by joining meandering songsmiths Kat and Garth on “Weekend Update.’ Listen, Gwyneth, WE GET IT. It’s a wonder they didn’t hold off the “Worst of Soul Train“ sketch another week so Paltrow could play some kind of disco queen. But they probably thought that would be overkill.
Also, Cee-Lo, we get it. You’re a big deal right now. Gwyneth Paltrow covered your hit song, and hugs you and treats you like her best friend. But we don’t need to see the you also singing during the monologue and in the Bar Mitzvah sketch and also appearing in the “Record Label Meeting” sketch that was just a device to introduce your musical performance. What’s that we said about overkill? We mean, c’mon, it’s not like the guy is Paul McCartney. And, sure, we admit, “F*** You” is one of those songs we heard about ad nauseam before we ever actually heard it (much like “Umbrella”), because the only radio we listen to is sports talk and NPR. But it is good, at the very least, it’s dangerously infectious. However, isn’t “F*** You” just like “Hey Ya,” but not as good. Seven years later we still think the former is a great song, not sure if the latter will fare so well in 2018. Will it be a classic or a novelty? Only time will tell if it stands the test of time. But, until then, we could have done with at least one less Cee-Lo appearance.
Read on: Pee-wee plays with fire, Bill Hader gets political, and a hidden meaning to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air sketch
Well. That was that. We gave SNL the benefit of the doubt after a decent, if lazy, premiere, instead looking forward to the second show of the season as the real test. And, well, they pretty much failed.
As Alan Sepinwall noted in his tweets, it’s a shame that the show totally wasted Bryan Cranston’s immense talent. It’s not that he wasn’t in any sketches. And it’s not that he wasn’t good. He did everything he was asked to do to the best of his abilities. The problem was that the material was just uninspired, whether it was a retread or a weak stab at something original, it was all very stale. If this was them trying, then we’d hate to see them phone it in.
More: At least there was What’s Up With That? We never thought we’d say those words.
Amy Poehler returned to host the 36th season premiere of SNL this past week, but did it feel like she ever really left? Between her frequent appearances last season on the big show and her stint co-anchoring Weekend Update Thursday last fall she was really on the show as much as Jenny Slate was, and probably more times than Jay Mohr during his brief run (cheap shot, sorry, Jay). She even capped last season by coming back for the famed, Emmy-winning Betty White episode, joining her fellow former female castmates like Tina Fey and Molly Shannon in helping White carry the hosting weight. That episode, the 2nd to the last of the season, felt more like a prime-time special than a regular show (indeed, it was billed as a Mother’s Day edition, but as a result of coincidental timing and to justify bringing in the ringers to support White, who then proved she really didn’t need assistance). And while host-in-residence Alec Baldwin made his annual appearance to close out the season a week later, White’s episode really felt like the big finish. And wouldn’t you know it, SNL felt like it picked up just where it left off, by pulling out the big guns and bringing back the all-time greats, starting with Ms. Poehler herself.
Read on: Parade of Stars: Timberlake, Dratch, Rudolph, Fey, Fallon & Peterson. Also, whom did SNL really rip off?
Alright, that headline is an obvious and deliberately misleading statement, you got me. However, even more than being technically correct, this weekend’s show actually earned the distinction. I previously stated my disbelief over the choice of Barkley, NBA Hall of Famer, current commentator and compulsive gambler, as the first SNL host of the decade. It not only seemed completely out of left field, but even if Barkley was relevant among SNL‘s core demographic, you’d think they would have still chosen someone hipper, funnier and actually from a performing background for the first show. At least save Sir Charles for 2010 week 2.
But I was wrong. What I failed to realize is that Barkley was likely to succeed precisely because of his limitations. It’s the extreme version of Christopher Walken or John Malkvovich, where the fact that it’s the host in a specific role is more of the joke than the sketch itself. And with Barkley being a good sport ex-athlete instead of an eccentric actor, the writing staff was able to even more successfully use Barkley’s personality and performing constraints to his advantage. It’s like the Jets plotting a game plan whereby Mark Sanchez has to just manage the game, hand off the ball for the majority of the snaps and avoid turnovers (bet you didn’t see that sports analogy coming. Well, some of us care about football 3 weeks out of the year. Mostly for the nachos). And this is different from writing for an actor who just isn’t particularly talented when it comes to comedy. Despite her SNL showing, January Jones is still a better acting talent than Charles Barkley; it’s just that SNL could use Barkley’s weaknesses to its advantage. With Jones they could only try to minimize the damage by having her look pretty and leave the funny to the cast.
All those platitudes aside, while it was a surprisingly good episode by SNL standards, it wasn’t wall-to-wall successful, and I’d still rather see a host earn the laughs with natural comic ability as opposed to lack of it. However, Barkley really was impressive, and set the bar high for 2010 (tall guy joke!).
More: Highlights! Racism! Cake! Chopping Broccoli!