"SNL" made a smart move by using the incredibly versatile and talented black actress Kerry Washington to address the issue of the show's lack of same.
The cold open featured Washington as Michelle Obama, who is quickly asked to leave so that Oprah could visit. This is followed by a long text crawl to give her time to change.
"The producers at 'Saturday Night Live' would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent and also because 'SNL' does not currently have a black woman in the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree that this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future... unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first."
After asking Oprah to leave so Beyonce could join them, they kill time by inviting in "six different Matthew McConaugheys." The Reverend Al Sharpton came out to tag the scene with "What have we learned from this sketch? As usual, nothing."
This is in response to an interesting dialogue Kenan Thompson raised a couple weeks back when he said that a) he wouldn't play any more black women on the show and that b) the reason "SNL" doesn't have any black women is because there aren't any out there who are "ready" for the show. "Unready" black female comedians responded appropriately.
The issue isn't really racism. As some have pointed out, the number of black women who have been on the show is pretty proportional to the number of black women in "SNL's" farm system in general – that is, schools like Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade. And unlike the issue of affirmative action, the lack of diversity on a show like "SNL" isn't one of quotas. Eddie Murphy and Tina Fey are two people who broke glass ceilings at the show that proved diversity makes the show funnier, and their legacy is still felt today.
All in all, that first sketch was the perfect way to use the host and address a touchy situation involving the show itself. After that, it was hit or miss, including a barely-there monologue segment where various cast members ask her to "fix" things like her "Scandal" character Olivia Pope.
The next sketch featured another in a long line of sad-sack motivational speakers, Heshi al Fahi, played by Nasim Pedrad. It's good to see the only woman of color currently on the show get the spotlight like that — too bad the conceit is so worn out. Washington was the best thing about the sketch as Heshi's sassy assistant Tammy, as she demands her boss "respect my ability to assess a bucket!"
After that was "What Does My Girl Say," a parody of the viral video "What Does the Fox Say." The problem, of course, is that "The Fox" is already a comedy video, intentionally so. Doing a parody of it is like parodying a "Weird Al" song — completely redundant.
The show takes advantage of having three black performers at one time with "How's He Doing," a sketch about the President's startling drop in approval ratings to "93.6%" among black voters. It's a fun take on his current woes; Washington and Jay Pharoah are great as they struggle to support Obama's hypothetical decision to put together a five-on-five Dream Team of Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Christian Laettner, and Brett Favre.
Your enjoyment of the Miss Universe sketch will depend on your appreciation for awful accents and stereotypes too bizarre to be offensive. Washington shines again as Miss Nigeria, and Aidy Bryant's "I'm from North Greenland. Now, there are three of us up there and I'm the woman!" is probably the best thing to ever happen to that country's tourism.
The high point of "Weekend Update" was Kate McKinnon doing a marvelous, pathos-laden Angela Merkel worrying that, because of the phone tapping scandal, everyone would know about her calls to the bratwurst shop and her texts or, as she calls them, "many shameful tiny emails."
Thompson's Charles Barkley is joined by Pharoah's Shaquille O'Neal that starts off awkward, then devolves into something like Frankenstein with a concussion. Your enjoyment of the portrayal will likely depend on how angry you still are about him leaving Orlando.
The rest of the show — with sketches about a fake Cartoon Network show, a fake MTV show a high school fall carnival, and a short about an ice cream shop — are typical last-hour fare: thin premises with on-again, off-again execution.
"Saturday Night Live" airs Saturdays at 11:30 PM on NBC.