Let’s just say it’s too soon. Saturday Night Live‘s special “at home” quarantine edition, with cast members appearing remotely in pre-taped, Zoom-like, mostly solo bits, won’t exactly be remembered for contributing big laughs to a nation under lockdown. But we did get to see a few glimpses of where the stars live, so there’s that.
With guest appearances by Larry David as Bernie Sanders, an audio-only Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and a Weekend Update that had Michael Che paying heartfelt and humorous tribute to his grandmother who died this week from COVID-19, the episode of the NBC sketch comedy was certainly of the moment. But as Tom Hanks, introducing the show, asked, “Will it make you laugh? Eh.”
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Hanks, self-described “celebrity canary in the coal mine” for coronavirus, appeared from what looked to be a kitchen or maybe wet bar, to explain the at-home premise, the non-live approach and the absence of audience reactions. “Is it going to look a little different? Yes,” Hanks said in what proved an understatement.
From there, Pete Davidson contributed the first of his two for-laughs rap songs, apparently from his native Staten Island, neither of which offered any more or less than what you’d imagine. Kate McKinnon offered up her Ruth Bader Ginsburg impression for a faux-workout session that had the Justice using double-A batteries as dumbbells.
Next came the inevitable corporate Zoom meeting parody, with Mikey Day as a supervisor walking his staffers through the remote process, and Aidy Bryant and McKinnon as the office receptionists who just didn’t get it (Bryant’s character taking the laptop into the bathroom, and McKinnon’s breaking down in tears while describing the gross measures taken in desperation for toilet paper).
Perhaps most disappointing, though, was Weekend Update, with Colin Jost (from a really tasteful, amber-hued living room, acoustic guitar placed just so on a brown leather sofa) and Michael Che (framed football jerseys on man cave walls) reading jokes from their computer screens, few landing. Jost thanked Bernie Sanders for providing comedians with four to eight years of Trump or Biden jokes, while Che fretted over the outsized impact of the coronavirus pandemic on African-American communities.
“Once Trump starts calling it The Harlem Virus we ain’t never going to get a cure,” he said. Not exactly a bad joke, but torpedoed nonetheless by someone’s inexplicable decision to have each quip met by the canned, lackluster chuckles of what sounded like three, maybe four people. The unintentional result was the human equivalent of crickets chirping (which is more than Che’s Harvey Weinstein-in-the-prison-showers joke deserved).
The same response greeted an audio-only phone-in from Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, who claimed the claps and cheers coming from New Yorkers’ windows at 7 p.m. every evening were for him, not hospital workers. Oh, and “Carole Baskin definitely fed her husband to the tigers.”
Che addressed the death of his grandmother from COVID-19 this week by telling Jost how much she loved Update’s periodic “joke swap” routine, in which Jost is forced to read an offensive, usually racist joke. Jost complied, though Che got the last word by admitting his grandmother never watched the show. Che did offer a nice tribute, though, by signing off as “Martha’s Grandbaby.”
The rest of the show trudged on, with Beck Bennett hosting a remote dating show in which desperate quarantined women deprived of physical contact settled for various losers (played by Pete Davidson, Mikey Day and Kenan Thompson), and Chloe Fineman impersonating Timothée Chalamet and Tiger King’s Carole Baskin as online acting teachers. There was an animated Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles short that worked well without an audience, Larry David as Bernie Sanders (“I finally have the time to at last finish that heart attack from October”) and Alex Moffat doing a funny Sky Sports parody.
Musical guest was Chris Martin, with acoustic guitar, doing an appropriately sweet rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm,” and a tribute from past and current cast members to Hal Wilner, the show’s longtime sketch music producer who died this week from COVID-19 complications. With no fewer than two tributes to casualties of the pandemic making clear just how devastating this spring has been, SNL‘s at-home edition certainly had its work cut out for it, and there’s something to be said for trying.
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