On Saturday night we had a games night over FaceTime (shout-out to whomever is writing the article about which group chat apps are chosen for which activities.) It was the most fun – and the most ‘out’ – I’ve felt in weeks. But even though it was great, or maybe because it was great, and we wanted to keep it going, we all signed off at midnight, excited and nervous to check out the first Saturday Night Live in weeks.
I knew it would feel different, and strange, even though lots of other shows have made it to their ‘workaround’ format by now. SNL is unique - unlike Jimmy Fallon and James Corden, whose names are in the title of their shows, SNL is about the combinations of people you get, every time. It’s about the alchemy of combinations of people, and how the host plays into that, and as Tom Hanks said, “It’s SNL, you know, there’s gonna be some good stuff, maybe one or two stinkers, you know the drill.”
I’d venture that Tom Hanks was the weirdest part of the whole thing, right? For so many reasons. Because there were no laughs in the monologue, because we’re watching him in the vague knowledge that he had and survived the thing we were most afraid of, because it was his 10th time hosting and you can’t shake the post-apocalypse vibes of ‘how it might be from now on’, because he wasn’t actually in any sketches…
…And because, let’s face it, his house was ridiculously distracting.
I’m not the only one who kept trying to figure out what was going on there, right? The shot was… a LOT tighter and more constrained by space than I expected, to a confusing degree. At first I wondered if Tom and Rita had returned from Australia and gone to some New York condo they own, but even then there’d be an entranceway of some sort, right? I’ve been in a lot of LA homes and they don’t ever have the kitchen right off the entranceway, which is what we seemed to be looking at. Someone smart on Twitter said they figured Hanks was probably in his guest house, which makes sense in terms of the architecture… but it still gives me slight discomfort. If Tom Hanks is okay, show me the grandiose mansion he’s okay in, so I can feel that the world is unfair and therefore normal!
In fact, the mundane parts of this SNL at home were the weirdest parts, right? First of all, a substantial number of people were clearly in LA, which shatters my beloved illusion that they all live in New York. Also, the show was definitively shot in daylight, because that’s what iPhones and laptops do best (though that worked extra well in cases like Pete Davidson’s Staten Island rapper with just $2000).
Overall, though, this episode of SNL worked because it felt new, and therefore a bit dangerous, like anything could happen. Obviously the actors self-taping sketches (or recruiting family members to do so) could send multiple takes, so we were less likely to have line flubs, or the internet’s hoped-for goof of Scarlett Johansson walking in behind that carefully placed acoustic guitar behind Colin Jost…
But we still had Michael Che making Jost read off-colour jokes with no warning, or the rest of the cast cracking up, as ‘live’ as possible, at Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon’s antics during the ‘Zoom orientation’ sketch. Plus stuff like a Bailey sketch at home, or Ego Nwodim getting ‘Zoom ready’, which we never saw before – it wasn’t like they were relying on reruns of ‘Celebrity Jeopardy’.
There were the parts that felt ‘New York normal’, like how Kate McKinnon clearly had no space to do her RBG workout, and parts that felt ‘SNL normal’, like Alec Baldwin and Larry David being slightly annoying and taking their sweet time anyway. Like Hanks said, a couple of off sketches is normal. I’ll even admit to liking that some cast members didn’t show up that much, or at all – on the one hand, it made me medium worried about them, but on the other hand, it felt refreshingly normal, like not even Coronavirus is gonna get you on the show if Lorne doesn’t deem you worthy that week, you know?
I wonder how long this took to put together. I hope they can do another this week, though the editing is obviously a bigger part of SNL than it usually is, and their live directing team is probably going crazy, but I really appreciated what they were able to do – including the parts that acknowledged the limitations of not doing this in Studio 8H, and leaned into it instead of trying to hide it. Nobody wanted this, but since we have to have it, I’m choosing to be proud. Every time you count SNL out, it proves it’s not done being a legend.