In a bohemian production filmed from cast-members houses, "SNL" entered this strange new era of entertainment with a few misfires, but enough hits to keep us laughing.
And now for something completely different. After a month away thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic, "Saturday Night Live At Home" decided to jump into the fray of alternative production to try and bring back some semblance of what they do to the American public.
While originally slated to return on March 28 with John Krasinski (promoting "A Quiet Place II") and Dua Lipa, those plans were obviously all scrapped -- including the release of Krasinski's film.
Instead, the night kicked off with the entire cast converging in a Zoom conference call before a new intro featured the band members all performing from their respective homes, and new footage of the cast in their homes to set the stage for something we've never seen before.
Tom Hanks was the surprise host -- with Chris Martin as musical guest -- to help ease us into this unusual new format, though he obviously wasn't guest-starring in sketches throughout the night. Instead, he literally introduced the show, the musical guest Chris Martin and helped us say farewell.
That's not to say he was the only big star, though. Larry David, Alec Baldwin and Fred Armisen all made "sketch" appearances, while there was a veritable who's who of "SNL" stars who appeared to pay tribute to the show's long-time music producer Hal Willner, who passed away from COVID-19 last week.
The whole vibe and energy of the show was obviously different. It wasn't actually live, there was no studio audience (thought Weekend Update worked out a clever workaround), and it was a much faster moving machine.
Some things worked better than others, but as Tom told us in his opening monologue, isn't that part of the DNA and fabric of "SNL" these past 45 years. We're just thrilled to have it back, in any format, and happy for the laughs!
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, "Weekend Update" and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny - unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.
A touching tribute to the musical maestro behind so many of "SNL's" cinematic moments, it seemed there was no shortage of former cast-members willing to come back and say a few words, or even sing, in tribute to someone who meant so much to so many, lost tragically one day after his 64th birthday. (Note: Obviously, we're not ranking this one)
Pete Davidson's "Drake Song"
Well, while it certainly did sound like a Drake song, there was absolutely nothing funny about it. It was, instead, just Pete's version of a Drake song. The humor came in him repeating, "This is a Drake song" through the chorus, we guess. And by humor maybe we mean intended humor? Why was this the first sketch of the night? Usually "SNL" parody songs at least try to be funny.
Aidy Bryant offered up some mental exercises to help people keep their sanity and their center during these trying times, and despite going off the rails a few times into snake pits and World War I, she mostly did a pretty good job of keeping things positive ... if a little strange. It was a segment that was more pleasant and cute than funny, but that's better than aggressively unfunny.
MONOLOGUE: Tom Hanks
"It is a strange time trying to be funny," Tom said. "But trying to be funny is SNL's whole thing." He described himself as the "celebrity canary in the coal mine" for the coronavirus in explaining why he was selected as the first host for this "At Home" experiment. As the first major star to contract COVID-19, Tom was on the front line of helping raise awareness to the seriousness of the virus. And so here he was, in his kitchen, alternating between sincere, fatherly and lightly humorous. His jokes were kind of sweet, but most didn't really land with a laugh. It was more that it was nice to see him doing well and exciting that they're at least trying to make this work.
Giving us our best sense of how this show was going to go, Kate McKinnon was bringing everything to her Ruth Bader Ginsberg impression without the majority of the costuming. Like improv theater, this show was going to require a little more imagination and work from the audience. She's always a delight in this role, and it was cute seeing her alternatives to weight equipment that the diminutive Justice might use. Plus, the ever-present Gins-burns were still there and still sharp at the Federal government's poor response to the pandemic, and subsequent excuses.
Bernie Sanders Message
This probably would have worked a little better with Larry David standing up so he could deliver a little more energy, but there were glimpse of his Bernie. The writing was pretty sharp, with some good jokes about toilet paper and the new handshake replacement. But mostly this was Larry seeming to literally phone in an impression to help the show out. Maybe it was the lack of costuming that made it a bit harder for him to get into character. But hey, we got a few chuckles out of it, and we'll take everyone one we can find!
Coming up with sketches is hard on a regular week, but having to come up with ideas that can be executed remotely has to be a nightmare. Thankfully, Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney were able to ask "SNL" legend Fred Armisen for help. What we got was a remix of them trying to come up with something turned into a dance track. It's not Cardi B's "CoronaVIRUS," but it was a fun diversion for a few moments.
MasterClass Quarantine Edition
A chance for Chloe Fineman to show off her impression skills, she treated fans to her comedic range by taking on JoJo Siwa, Timothee Chalamet and Carole Baskin. That's right, MasterClass teaches you how to ride a bike -- for some reason -- with the breakout "Tiger King" star who assures us only twice in this video that she didn't kill her husband. The material could have been funnier, but we love seeing Chloe get a chance to show off one of her strongest skills.
What do you do when you run out of makeup during self-isolation? Well, Ego Nwodim has the alternative solutions you definitely do not want to try. How long did it take her to take that off after filming this? We love the bit and her commitment to the absurd. It is ... a look, for sure.
Sky Sport Report
You know what's not normal during this pandemic? Sports. Amd yet, Alex Moffat's British sportscaster brought to life what a lot of play-by-play announcers have actually done, by commentating on really mundane things like matches burning, laptops booting up and, in the segment's most riveting contest, which popcorn kernel will pop first. Our money was on top right and we are not happy!
From her appearances on Weekend Update, Heidi Gardner's teen movie critic Bailey Gismert welcomed us to her home YouTube show to do her movie reviews (without Michael Che to riff with). She was a mess, calling the delay of "Mulan" racist because it clearly means they think she has COVID-19, while her actual reviews were shaped by watching them at home amid distractions and by her inexplicable crush on "The Invisible Man." The character works well in this format -- even complaining about high school at-home adjustments. Riffing on a format that often films from home definitely made this one stronger.
Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles
Perhaps only speaking to a certain demographic (we see you Gen-X), but this was a spot-on parody of the '80s classic cartoon complete with updated theme song and the very, very mundane reality of what happens when you stop kicking Shredder ass and settle into domestic life -- even if you are a mutated anthropomorphic turtle. Honestly, we were enjoying the goofiness so much, we wish this one could have been longer.
Video game stream watchers will definitely appreciate Mikey Day's authenticity as a Twitch streamer. And even if you don't know the format, everyone should be able to enjoy just how awful he is at the new "Call of Duty" game, and even the trash talking that comes with it. We loved how petty he was, how cool he was trying to make himself (and failing) and even his attempt at a Mario speed run at the end -- though we wish that hadn't been quite so predictable.
CUT FOR TIME: Bruce Chandling Auditions
Also stepping away from the Weekend Update desk, Kyle Mooney's stand-up comic Bruce Chandling dusted off an old audition tape to show that he's been awful longer than many "SNL" viewers have been alive. This was another good use of this unique format, while allowing Kyle to shine in a character he knows the layers of so well. This was silly, sweet (in a dark, twisted way) and a welcome return for a goofy, recurring character.
Much stronger than his "Drake" video, this parody riffs on rappers always showing off their money, wth Pete lamenting that he only has $2,000 to his name. Sure, it looks good on the video, but what is that really going to do for him in the real world? It's a bop and a genuine comedic take on a music video trope. So why was this one last and the 'Drake" non-parody first?
How Low Will You Go?
The first perfect quarantine sketch of the night, this was a dating game show about just how hungry a trio of women are for men. Let's just say they're good with anything and ready to break social distancing mandates to get some with ... pretty much anyone. Beck Bennett was spot-on as the at-home emcee in a sharp and funny sketch that felt like classic "SNL" in this new format.
With actual Zoom mishaps blowing up social media, it was totally appropriate that Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon reprised their senior office workers Henrietta and Nan who really don't get how technology works at all trying to figure out this latest tool for at-home efficiency. Aidy even recreated the disastrous "poor Jennifer" bathroom Zoom moment, though Mikey Day thankfully stopped her before it went too far. Both women carried the humor in this sketch, which proved this format can work if handled properly.
Comparing comedy without an audience to a long-distance girlfriend thinking FaceTime is as good as sex, Micheal Che actually brought in some faceless people (the cast?) via Zoom to provide some laughter throughout the segment. It was a little strange, but also made it feel a little more normal. They got in their usual political jokes at the top, with Colin Jost even dropping an f-bomb, and the material was every bit as sharp as in-studio, even if the delivery was a little awkward yet.
Alec Baldwin called in as Trump, so it was audio only, and Alec was absolutely on fire. He riffed so much on how Trump has been handling the COVID-19 response, who he's been listening to for advice, other names workshopped for the virus outside of "Chinese Flu" and even weighed in on the Carole Baskin controversy. He even had Colin and Michael laughing a couple of times, making us wonder if he ad-libbed or switched up his script on them a bit.
They did their usual non-political material, with Colin again going dark on a gerbil paintings joke, before Michael talked about how much coming back to him meant after losing his grandmother this week. And in her honor, he put Colin on the spot to do a "joke swap" segment and it was ... rough. But also hilarious! Clearly, this segment survived the transition, as expected, much better than any other.
We're skipping the player of the week format for this installment because it was so different and we applaud everyone for stepping up in such extraordinary times to try and bring a smile or a laugh to our faces.
In a lot of ways, this felt more like a traditional old-school variety show than "SNL" does these days, with more sketches and several quick-hits happening between each commercial break. Sometimes comedy works best in short bursts, and that's something "SNL" has often struggled with.
We're sure the logistics of stage sets and costuming impacts how often they can jump from one sketch to the next, but there was a bohemian kind of energy to getting three different bursts of strange comedy within one segment between commercials that was exciting and felt more unpredictable.
Obviously, some bits worked better than others in this at-home format, but "SNL" proved that you can find comedy in unexpected formats and by thinking outside the box. Considering this was their first effort, we applaud the overall success of it, and believe it could quickly be honed into something bizarrely inventive and entertaining on a more regular basis.
Perhaps "SNL" could go biweekly or even every three weeks during the duration to give them more lead time for such an avant garde production. We'd love to get a few more of these before everything returns to normal just because it is such a unique experience.
Mostly, though we're thrilled that the cast and crew got a chance to do what they love, even in such a different way, and fans got a 90-minute diversion from their own self-isolation with something new.
We certainly hope quarantine programming doesn't become a norm, but there's always a possibility this could extend for awhile, or even happen again in our lifetimes, so it's encouraging to see that innovation and creativity still thrive and comedy can live even in the strangest of times.
For now, this was a one-off experiment and "SNL" is back to repeats next week. It remains to be seen if they'll decide this was worth the effort to come back and give us another treat, or just leave us to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime oddball collection of moments.