By Bria Manning
The thing about “Saturday Night Live,” the thing keeping it alive — despite constant complaints of it not being the same anymore, the writing bad, the new cast members just not funny — is indubiously nostalgia. Now in it’s 45th season, “SNL” is a traditional staple in many households across America who hold comedy close. On most Saturday nights, viewers can depend on the entertainment that Lorne Michaels and his cast and crew have been delivering for decades: the traditional “Live from New York!” at the end of the opening sketch, the host monologue, “Weekend Update” midway through the show, two performances from the musical guest and every other chuckle from the sketches in between. It then comes as no surprise that fans were skeptical upon learning that the cast and crew, after being absent from live television for a couple weeks amidst the coronavirus pandemic, were creating a first-ever “live from home” show for viewers on April 11.
The cast and crew of “SNL,” like the rest of the world, have been working to adapt to the current global situation, and this is reflected in the historical “live from home” episode. We see all the cast members performing sketches, for the first time, in quarantine at home, beautifully bare-faced and facial hair running amok. We get glimpses of the cast’s domestic life: bedrooms, instruments, pets, kids, man caves and moms’ basements, giving the entire episode a feeling of shared intimacy through a struggle we can collectively relate to. The episode opens with a Zoom window of Kenan Thompson, the longest running cast member of the show, appearing on the screen, followed by the rest of the cast popping into the video call. Lenny Pickett and the house band follow suit by opening the show with the theme song, maintaining tradition whilst isolating.
The beauty of this episode is that it did not try to ignore the current situation; rather, it leaned into it and even used it to lift the audience’s spirits, with most sketches being centered around some “stay at home” or quarantine-related activity. The host was beloved Tom Hanks, the first known celebrity to have contracted the coronavirus; the opening cast credits remained intact, depicting them engaged in stay at home activities we’ve all been doing (puzzles, baking, using household items for weighted workouts;) a “Weekend Update: Home Edition,” complete with Zoom audience so as to not look “like hostage footage,” said co-host Michael Che; and sketches varying from first-time Zoom meetings gone wrong to eager dating shows post-quarantine.
The special episode served as a reminder to viewers that the coronavirus affects us all — whether a celebrity or not, everyone’s staying home and the cast brings us together through this fact rather than in spite of it. It ended on a touching note by cast members past and present with a tribute to Hal Wilner, the music producer of “SNL,” who died of complications due to coronavirus. Unfortunately, Wilner was not the only Covid causality that hit close to home for “SNL”: Che revealed on “Weekend Update” that his grandmother had passed, also due to coronavirus complications, and he took to Instagram to announce he is “paying one months rent for all 160 apartments in the NYCHA building she [his grandmother] lived in.” Cecily Strong, another major player on the show, was noticeably absent from the “live at home” episode; she later opened up in a personal essay for “Vulture” about grieving for her late cousin who died of brain cancer and battling through her anxiety during quarantine.
As Hanks said in his opening monologue: “It is a strange time to try and be funny, but trying to be funny is ‘SNL’s’ whole thing.” Despite the awkward silences post-punch line and bleak times for those struggling, “SNL” continues to remain resilient in its job of delivering laughs, something everyone across the globe could do more with during this pause in society.