Saturday Night Live’s at-home format finds it stride as the season wraps up


Mary Ellen Matthews | NBC

Maya Alexander

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time in its 45-year history, the New York City comedic institution Saturday Night Live has changed to an at-home format for the remainder of the season. The first episode of “SNL At-Home” was an amateur production. The show was filmed solely on the cast’s iPhones and web cameras with sparse editing to help complete the just-put-together look of the episode. Yet, despite the low production quality, the heart and humor of the show shined through. With the help of surprise host Tom Hanks, who recently recovered from his public battle with COVID-19, and the always superb writing and performing of standout cast members Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson and Aidy Bryant, the show reminded audiences of the powerful effect of comedy during trying times.

As with any production that relies on the life of an audience, the show fell flat at times. Sketches like “How Low Will You Go?” felt drawn out and lifeless given that the game show format is difficult to pull off without a crowd. Bright spots of the show were sketches like “Whatcha Cookin’ On?,” “MasterClass Quarantine Edition” and “Bailey Gismart’s YouTube Channel.” All three of these sketches worked well not just because of the severely underused talent of Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, Chloe Fineman and Heidi Gardner, but also because the basis of these sketches was already online to begin with. Shooting in the form of a YouTube video works well in an at-home format because amateur YouTube videos are normally shot at home , therefore, nothing gets lost in translation unlike the sketch “Sport Report” which would have worked better in front of a studio audience.

Two extremely poignant moments occurred both during SNL staple “Weekend Update” and the tribute to the iconic music supervisor, Hal Willner. “Weekend Update” host Michael Che lost his grandmother from complications with COVID-19 and honored her during the sketch by doing her favorite bit, “Joke Swap,” with co-host Colin Jost. Che also replaced his normal sign-off by saying “I’m Martha’s grandbaby!” in tribute.

The cast and crew of SNL also honored the life of Hal Willner, who was a legendary music supervisor and producer that worked at SNL for 40 years before passing from complications due to COVID-19. The tribute featured messages and short stories of Willner’s impact on the production of SNL from current and former castmates like Adam Sandler, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The tribute also featured a sing-a-long to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.”

At the end of the show Hanks — a veteran host and member of the coveted Five-Timers Club — delivered an equally funny and uplifting monologue with a passionate plea to remain strong and resilient. “Stay safe. We are in this for the duration, and we will get through this together …We’ll take care of each other.”

The latest show saw a clear upgrade as the SNL crew strides into the end of the season. The cold open featured Brad Pitt as Dr. Anthony Fauci in an address to the nation after Fauci jokingly remarked that, “Brad Pitt, of course” should play him on SNL during an interview with CNN.

The production quality of the show was noticeably improved since the previous week with heavier editing on sketches like “Snapchat Filter Reporter,” “Grocery Store Ad” and the classic game show skit “What Up With That: At Home.”

Despite not having a host throughout, the show flowed seamlessly from sketch to sketch. Miley Cyrus acted as the show’s musical guest, performing a Stevie Nicks inspired version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

This show’s standout sketches included “Big Papi Cooking Show” led by star cast member Kenan Thompson. There was also the dating sketch, “Melissa Seals the Deal,” headed by underrated talent, Melissa Villaseñor. Davidson returned for another quarantine rap with “Stuck in the House” including a surprise feature from SNL veteran Sandler and a cameo from Rob Schneider. Kyle Mooney produced another hit with the wonderfully meta, “What’s My Name?” reminiscent of the vintage Mooney sketches found on his YouTube channels “kyle” and “GoodNeighborStuff,” an LA-based sketch comedy group he was a part of.

The 45th season of SNL nears the end of its run, with a possibility of a final show sometime in May. The two at-home episodes prove the vitality of the show in the wake of unexpected circumstances and indicate that no matter what, we can always count on an hour and a half of humor every Saturday night.