Saturday Night Live recap: Tom Hanks kicks off first at-home episode
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Welcome back to SNL in Review, or should I say SNL at Home edition.
Tonight's episode will be an interesting cultural footnote—both in the history of the show, as well as for the historians taking stock of how the U.S. coped during the 2020 global pandemic. How funny could it possibly be in the wake of what's happening? I'm not trying to be hyperbolic, given the severity of everything going on, but this surprising return to air could be the most monumental Saturday Night Live since the 9/11 show with Reese Witherspoon. If nothing else, it's one of the show's most novel experiments in recent memory. And it could be the weirdest thing the show has tried since handing the reins over to Francis Ford Coppola—in addition to its ill-fated New Orleans episode. That's how little precedent there is for tonight. In short, I have little idea what to expect and I am here for it. With cast members presumably performing via video chat, how DIY will this feel?
The pandemic is already close to the show, having taken SNL's longtime music producer Hal Willner and the grandmother of Michael Che.
I am joined tonight by former Saturday Night Live cast member Dan Vitale, who has lived in NYC for years and was in the city performing comedy in the aftermath of 9/11. To Vitale, the city is currently "experiencing fear as much as tragedy…[but] they say during the Great Depression what really thrived was comedy: Laurel & Hardy, Three Stooges." Once a vaccine is discovered, or some degree of normalcy returns to everyday life, he thinks a modern comedy boon could emerge. Which brings us to tonight's experiment: Is the country ready for live sketch comedy?
Comparing 9/11 and its impact on the world of comedy to the utter shutdown currently caused by COVID-19, Vitale adds, "This feels different. I think people feel so confined and stir crazy with no realistic end in sight. I personally, probably like many others, can't wait for the chance to be able to get in front of a crowd and practice our art form, hear laughter. Not for the usual ego boost, but for the declaration of a freedom most of us previously took for granted."
It's important to keep that perspective, especially as projections and the state of play shifts. And it will be interesting to see how the show strikes that balance tonight.
"Live from Zoom, it's sometime between March and August," hollers Kate McKinnon after a brief intro from Kenan Thompson. The cast appears on screen — Black Mirror by way of The Brady Bunch.
The new intro credits capture the cast at home, lounging, with kids. Great shots—and look, Chris Martin is performing…and COVID-19 survivor (!) Tom Hanks is the host.
Hanks has a shaved head and jokes about the canned laugh track. This is like a monologue from The Tonight Show—and it appears to be a pre-recorded segment. So not live.
Having America's dad kick things off is a nice touch. I believe this goofy, welcomed, reassuring appearance marks Hanks' tenth hosting gig. He capably closes things off with a silly quarantined "audience interaction" bit (it's him).
Vitale adds: "I never realized how much I would miss performing to little or no laughter to a bunch of people in an airless basement at the Music Inn in Greenwich Village. The good news is that after my stint on SNL in the mid-'80s, I had my first of a series of long-term rehab facilities, which ranged from 28 days or four months, without leaving the building…so no one is more suited to staying inside for incredibly long lengths of time, letting the madness of the outside world play out."
Next up: the sketches!
Pete Davidson's "Drake Song"
First: I was worried we might not see Pete Davidson on SNL again. Same with several other members of the cast. "Drake Song" is kind of a parody, I guess, of Drake's music. Pete's mom directed it.
RBG’s Workout Corner
OK, I get it. SNL is going full TikTok this episode. Not a bad thing. The show has been addicted to its high production values/capabilities for a while—this liberates the cast to just be weird. Case in point: Kate McKinnon must rely on her voice and facial mannerisms and little else to capture the legendary SCOTUS, frequently seen on Update. Here, she's leading a workout video—something countless Americans have been doing since this quarantine began.
Mikey Day is leading a work video conference call, which is very relatable and well done. It's a classic premise, but they really nail the clichés. Again, it's great seeing the cast not relying on the clapter. They must lean on their own comedy instincts and character work—fun!
A Message From Bernie Sanders
Larry David, as the Vermont senator, pops up with a message, discussing his recent departure from the presidential race. There are some savage jokes about Joe Biden here, which are mean and unfortunate. He concludes by thanking everyone who voted for him, including "the hot girls who love weed." Even during a pandemic, SNL is able to tap into its vast network of celeb cameos.
Masterclass Quarantine Edition
Chloe Fineman gets to spotlight her Timothée Chamalet impression—"I'm in my hoodie, nah nah nah"—and leads a TikTok demonstration as JoJo Siwa. Fineman's such a talent!
She also plays Carole Baskin from Tiger King, which is interesting since it was recently announced Kate McKinnon is going to portray the Big Cat Rescue owner in an upcoming TV miniseries.
Chris Martin Performs "Shelter From the Storm"
Coldplay has performed on SNL five times. They last appeared in November—performing "Everyday Lights" and "Orphans" during the Kristen Stewart episode—which means Martin has appeared as the musical guest twice this season. That puts him in rare territory.
This is a very appropriate song choice in these uncertain times.
The show is really sticking to its formula, with Weekend Update following the first musical performance. Interestingly, there's a call-in audience watching and giggling, which brings some normalcy to their delivery. Otherwise, as Che says, it would be a hostage situation.
Colin Jost—who, sadly, has shaved—talks about Trump's "daily improv shows."
Vitale adds: "I have learned to look forward to the daily White House (not so brief) briefings. It's like when I was a kid waiting for Johnny Carson's monologue. Trump comes off like a madman, but it would be entertaining as hell if thousands of people weren't dying. Pence serves as a mortician like Ed McMcMahon. The only bright spot is Dr. Tony Fauci, like a Doc Severinsen voice of reason."
Che makes a hilarious point about liberal white kids on Twitter being sad about Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race. A lot of truth in his punchlines. And hey, look at Che's pool table!
Ew, they tapped Alec Baldwin to call in as Trump. Guys, why? You could've just skipped this.
Che pays tribute to his grandmother and guilts Jost into ending with another Joke Swap.
Bailey at the Movies
Bailey Gismert breaks out of Update and gets her own sketch! This is a perfect use of her character, as she's a YouTube personality riff anyhow. Nice editing, too. Heidi Gardner, of course, crushes it. "Emma definitely stole a lot from Clueless," she murmurs, reviewing all the theatrical films that went straight to on-demand. She ends her video by noting that "Louie C.K.'s special was actually very funny."
An SNL Animated Short: Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles
Strong mid-'90s Robert Smigel (TV Funhouse) vibes here! Love the aesthetic. Or was this written by nostalgia-junkie Mikey Day? Hmm.
Cam Playz Dat Twitch Stream
Mikey Day is back, this time playing Call of Duty Warzone and, after dying, Super Mario Bros.
Sky Sports Report
Alex Moffat touches on the lack of professional sports right now and the impact that's had on sports broadcasters. Without any major leagues active, they have resorted to competitive popcorn kernel popping: "This is why we watch sports!"
Without incessant laughs and production issues, I like the pacing of the show—it's more seamless.
Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett are trying to figure out what to do for the first at-home episode of SNL, but they can't. "Whatcha' cookin' up? Whatcha' jammin' on?" they ask, before busting out into song. Then Fred Armisen pops up—yet another cameo. Why?
Visualization With Aidy Bryant
We are relaxing with Aidy Bryant, who tries to calm us with images and thoughts of love, summertime hot dogs, warm bread, dancing… If all else fails, she recommends we all eat a quesadilla and an entire bag of chocolate chips to survive quarantine times. Fair!
How Low Will You Go?
And here is our game show parody. We knew it was coming. Beck Bennett serves as the host—Alex Burpee, a dad forced to hang out with his kids. All the contestants have broken their vibrators. The show gauges how quickly these desperate women want human contact. "If I sprint I can get to [Brooklyn] in 45 minutes," Ego Nwodim says to a dimwitted Mikey Day. Pete Davidson and Kenan Thompson also pop up as eccentric participants.
Ego Nwodim conducts a makeup market lesson. Silly—I believe I saw her do this on her Instagram.
Pete Davidson's "Andre 2000" Music Video
Another Pete Davidson rap spoof. Not Lonely Island. "I got $2000."
Remembering Hal Willner
Kate McKinnon leads a very lovely tribute to late SNL music producer Hal Willner. She is joined by past and present cast members including Adam Sandler, John Mulaney, Kenan Thompson, Fred Armisen, Pete Davidson, Bill Hader, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, and Molly Shannon who all share memories and sing Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" to honor him.
—A valiant effort by the cast, writers, and editors/production people! Thought the limitations helped, mostly. With this kind of episode, you can do ANYTHING, so why rely on the tropes? But what did you think? Vote here!
—Want some other SNL-related content while we're all housebound? Watch David Spade "interview" Robert Downey Jr. (a.k.a Jeff Richards) in this clever deep fake from Lights Out With David Spade. Three former SNL cast members in one bite!
—Speaking of Jeff Richards, check out this clever, puppet-themed Weekend Update spoof, Weekend Puppdate with Norm Macdonfelt. The brainchild of comedian Ricky Glore, this week's episode features Jeff (again as RDJ) giving commentary on coronavirus.
—Thanks to Dan Vitale for his contributions tonight! Here's his pick of the week, as we all endure home quarantine: "House arrest isn't so bad. I got to watch 40 episodes of Halt & Catch Fire, a brilliant show on Netflix. I highly recommend."
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