SNL at Home review: Second episode is sleeker, but still awkward in the best way

Saturday Night Live returned for a second at-home episode on 25 April, two weeks after a celebrated maiden voyage.

Expectations were high. The first episode, which aired on 11 April, managed to hit all the right notes by rolling out Tom Hanks as a surprise host and delivering a string of at-times goofy, at-times laugh-out-loud-funny skits put together by cast members from their respective homes. It was like a warm hug after weeks of stress and uncertainty, and proof that the show’s format could be adapted successfully to these peculiar circumstances.

This week’s instalment shared many of the previous one’s qualities. But it was sleeker, with a higher production value that made it seem more like a regular SNL episode. This isn’t a diss towards SNL at Home number one – if anything, the more homemade version of the show was also more touching. It’s simply interesting, not to mention admirable, to watch as the programme’s team ramps up its efforts week after week.

SNL at Home number two began, much like its predecessor, with a high-profile surprise: Brad Pitt delivering the traditional cold open as Dr Anthony Fauci, one of the leading members of Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. (Incidentally, the real-life Dr Fauci has joked that he would like Pitt to play him on SNL, and as it turns out, wishes really do come true.)

Pitt’s Fauci did his best to respond and somewhat debunk some of the US president’s most bizarre claims related to the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, America has once again found itself in a news cycle that seems to defy comedy, with the president suggesting disinfectant injections might be a good way to treat the virus. But even in this tricky context, Pitt did an honourable job, delivering sharp one-liners as well as a sincere tribute to Dr Fauci and other healthcare workers.

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Like the previous week, the show used new opening credits, showing the cast at home in lieu of the usual New York landmarks – a tongue-in-cheek touch I have yet to tire of. While Kenan Thompson was a discreet presence two weeks ago, he was featured much more prominently this time around, which is always a good thing. His instalment of What Up With That?, a recurring skit on SNL, was pretty much pitch-perfect.

For much of the episode, SNL deployed the same strategy that served it so well two weeks ago: poking fun of quarantine culture and its many ridiculous aspects. Mikey Day was excellent as a confused TV anchor with coronavirus trying to give an interview from his home, only to be tormented by his daughter with ridiculous video filters. A skit about remote workouts perfectly captured the somewhat over-the-top energy certain fitness instructors manage to project even through a webcam.

Pitt was just one of four high-profile guests to join the episode. Adam Sandler made a surprise appearance in Pete Davidson’s musical skit, rapping about the trials of quarantine; Paul Rudd stepped in as a man attempting – emphasis on attempting – to reconnect with a relative during a video call. Miley Cyrus was the evening’s musical guest, delivering a stunning rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.

What else? Ah, yes – Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon were brilliant as a duo in a faux ad for a supermarket desperately to get rid of products no one could possibly want to buy, even while on quarantine. They also stood out in separate skits – McKinnon as a woman desperate to sell cats to other people on lockdown, Bryant by poking fun of her own childhood journals. Oh, and Weekend Update returned, this time with green screens. (Two weeks prior, viewers became fascinated with Colin Jost’s and Michael Che’s respective backgrounds – no such luck this time!)

SNL, as a comedy show, isn’t too afraid of experimenting, meaning its skits sometimes more weird than hilarious, attracting confused chuckles instead of belly laughs. This episode had its ups and down, but that in itself is remarkable – we’re getting the traditional SNL experience in extremely non-traditional circumstances. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. And at a time when so many comedians and TV hosts have shown just how very hard it is to be funny without an audience, the SNL class of 2020 has now proven twice that it’s far from impossible.

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