“Saturday Night Live” returned looking very different from the late-night comedy show that has imprinted itself on American culture over 45 seasons.
This weekend’s new episode, the first since production shut down after the March 7 episode hosted by Daniel Craig, featured a unique opening: 17 cast members in boxes on a Zoom screen.
“It’s wonderful to see my beautiful castmates on this technological approach to trying to do a live show,” said Kenan Thompson, the longest-serving member of the group.
Kate McKinnon then offered the bizarre-o version of the trademark “SNL” opening: “And live from Zoom, it’s somewhere between March and August.”
As host Tom Hanks explained, “Saturday Night Live At Home” was recorded by cast members at their homes in New York and beyond, and wasn’t going to look like it usually does. But “what the heck! Let’s give it a shot.”
The vibe of this unusual episode of “SNL,” which scuttled a scheduled March 28 episode with John Krasinski and Dua Lipa, was different from the get-go. Ousted from its now way-too-cozy Studio 8H, the iconic NBC late-night show did its best to adjust to the age of coronavirus, as late-night talk shows have as they return in remote locations.
The opening credits revealed the changed situation, as the cast members weren’t shown against glamorous nightlife scenes in New York, the U.S. city most heavily hit by COVID-19. (The “SNL” family lost longtime music producer Hal Willner last week to complications from coronavirus. The cast, along with former “SNL” players Tina Fey, Adam Sandler and Bill Hader, offered a tribute late in the episode.)
Instead, cast members, accompanied by the familiar “SNL” theme, were shown in the credits at their homes, with Beck Bennett doing laundry, Mikey Day reading to his son and McKinnon cuddling with her cat. Some were a bit disheveled, but Alex Moffat, stepping into the shower, showed dedication to hygiene.
Chris Martin provided music and almost-regulars Alec Baldwin (via phone) as President Donald Trump and Larry David as Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared, giving the episode some sense of normalcy.
As usual, Colin Jost and Michael Che delivered “Weekend Update,” but the look of their “Home Edition” was jarring, as both were casually dressed and appearing via split screen without the support of a studio audience. Joe Exotic of “Tiger King” got big play.
The immediate comic standout was McKinnon as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who offered tips for staying healthy from RBG’s Workout Corner.
“I’m 87 years old,” said McKinnon, who couldn’t call on a show stylist to provide a wig to cover her blond hair. “I went to law school during the Spanish Flu,” which took place in 1918 but the point was made.
McKinnon’s cat made a cameo, too: “That’s my trainer. If I mess up, he eats me. Scary guy.”
Other segments tried to incorporate the remote nature of the episode, with a corporate Zoom meeting, a teen (Heidi Gardner) reviewing movies on YouTube and Day as a gamer in “Cam Playz Dat.”
For comic quality, we’ll give remote “SNL” a … aw, forget it. We’re grading this one A-plus. Call it the coronavirus curve or whatever you want, but the most important thing is that a comedy staple viewers know and love (sometimes not so much, but that’s part of a long relationship) is back. We’ll get to the critical assessments, but maybe not right now.
Hanks, who changed from a suit to a denim jacket, closed the evening by saying, “Well, that’s our show. We hope it gave you something to do for a little while. … Stay safe, everybody. Goodnight.”
Then the credits rolled against a forlorn shot of the empty “SNL” stage, which usually would be crowded with the host, musical guest and cast members saying goodbye and hugging each other. That seems long ago.
Regardless of the format, it’s good to have you back in our homes, “SNL,” even if you can’t be in yours.