by Julian Spivey
“Saturday Night Live” returned on Saturday, April 11 with possibly the most innovative and certainly the strangest episode in the 45 years of the late night sketch comedy show.
In a special episode billed “Saturday Night Live: At Home” the show was completely filmed and produced by the cast of the episode filming sketches and bits from their home during the quarantine our country is experiencing due to Covid-19. It was the first episode of ‘SNL’ since Daniel Craig hosted on March 7.
The special episode was set up like a typical live episode would be complete with a host, musical guest, sketches and Weekend Update, all with a bit more of a confined feeling to them and without the terrific sets you usually see on a live broadcast. I particularly enjoyed the new “At Home” cast member introductions at the beginning of the episode.
Tom Hanks served as the episode’s host from his home marking his first televised appearance since being diagnosed with Covid-19 while filming a movie in Australia and recovering. Poking fun of one of the pandemic’s biggest pop culture phenomenon’s Hanks opened his monologue with “Hey all you cool cats and kittens” from Netflix’s docuseries “Tiger King.” Hanks would remark about how “it’s a strange time to try to be funny but trying to be funny is SNL’s whole thing.” He said there would probably be some laughs and maybe even a stinker or two, as most episodes go.
There was a real DIY aspect to this episode of ‘SNL’ that I absolutely loved. Entertainment writer and author Mark Harris tweeted: “That ‘SNL’ was so beautifully lo-fi. Entertainment stripped of everything but the determination to make an effort. I was moved.”
The effort by the cast and crew to get this ‘At Home’ edition of ‘SNL’ on the air for us long-time fans of the show in need of some good-hearted laughs and original content during this horrific time in our country is something that should be greatly commended.
Was it the funniest episode ever of ‘SNL’ or even this season? No. But, the effort and work put in by these comedians to give us these laughs and something fun to do with our Saturday night during this time in America makes it one of the most important episodes the legendary show has ever done.
Obviously do to social distancing and everybody being quarantined in their own homes the cast wasn’t able to get together to do typical sketches and most of the evening’s bits were single acted moments with some of the best including Ego Nwodim doing a makeup tutorial using Crayola markers, Mikey Day as a Twitch live streaming gamer who’s extremely bad at “Call of Duty” and one of my personal favorite recurring characters of the show Bailey Gismert, Heidi Gardner’s teenage YouTube movie critic. It was nice to see this character actually get to do a mock YouTube video, instead of just being a guest on Weekend Update and I hope the show allows the character to do this more in the future.
Thanks to Zoom, which seems to be having its heyday during this time in our country, there were sketches that allowed multiple cast members to be involved at once and the funniest of the evening was a work Zoom meeting in which Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant played receptionists not accustomed to such technology struggling to adapt to it. Having never used Zoom this sketch was somewhat lost on me, but had my wife, who’s had to use it for work meetings of late, in stitches, no doubt reminding her of some of her older co-workers.
I truly appreciate how ‘SNL’ tried to make this episode appear as normal as it could including a musical guest and Coldplay’s Chris Martin performed a terrific cover of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” from his home.
Possibly the oddest moment of the evening was Weekend Update with Michael Che and Colin Jost because it’s a more of a traditional set-up and punchline joke format that’s awkward without a live studio audience, even though the show tried with laughter from what I assume where other cast members or writers being involved via Zoom. This is an aspect that has made some of the late night monologues done at home by Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and the like awkward as well on weeknights.
In a touching moment during the show Che said that being able to come back to work this week helped with the grief of losing his grandmother to Covid-19 earlier in the week. In one of my favorite segments of the duo’s run on Weekend Update Che told Jost that it would’ve made his grandmother’s day to do a joke swap in which Che made Jost read a culturally insensitive joke coming from a white man. Che’s torture of Jost during this recurring bit always gives me a huge belly laugh. Che then remarked that he was just messing with Jost and that his grandmother had never watched ‘SNL.’ Che touchingly signed off of Weekend Update with “I’m Martha’s grandbaby.”
One of the episode’s most popular bits was an animated segment focusing on what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be up to as Middle Aged Ninja Turtles, including getting divorced and whether or not they should attend Shredder’s funeral.
The show ended with a touching tribute to Hal Willner, a longtime music guy on the show since 1980 who succumbed to Covid-19 on April 7 at 64. A group of current and former ‘SNL’ cast members talked about Willner’s importance to them and the show and how great of a guy he was. The most touching part of the tribute for me was Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey singing Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” in his honor.
Thank you “Saturday Night Live” for doing this. At this tragic time in our country comedy and entertainment are truly important to keep up us from losing our minds. I sincerely hope the show does this again before what would’ve been the end of its season in May.