The season ended Saturday with the third pretaped, remote episode in a row due to the physical distancing demands created by the covid-19 pandemic.
These three episodes have been unlike anything in the show’s lengthy history, and not simply because they weren’t filmed in Studio 8H. For the first time in SNL’s history, the sketch show was forced to function without the cast members being together. They created sketch comedy without one of the most vital aspects of sketch comedy: the ability to play off one another. Even more astounding is that the resulting three episodes were among the season’s best — even if the finale was the weakest of the bunch.
It’s fairly remarkable how the show was able to create a familiar sense of rhythm, while remaining unpredictable, in a scant three episodes. The finale followed suit with a dash of Mother’s Day flair.
Things always kick off with a celebrity guest, such as Tom Hanks “hosting” the first episode or Brad Pitt impersonating Anthony S. Fauci in the second episode’s cold open.
The finale reached back to an old favorite, once again featuring Alec Baldwin as President Trump, this time as commencement speaker at a high school graduation taking place on Zoom. (One reason Baldwin’s Trump might not have appeared until now was the lack of anyone to style him, which he quickly addressed by saying “My valet got the virus, so I had to do my own makeup. I had to resort to a Liza Minnelli Tik Tok makeup tutorial.”)
Baldwin’s Trump began coughing and drinking bleach before beginning his speech.
“Believe in yourselves, and you can achieve anything. Look at me. I started as the son of a simple, wealthy slumlord and grew to be a billionaire, president and world’s leading expert on infectious disease,” he said to kick off his speech, which closed with, “Live every day as if it’s your last, because we’re going to let this thing run wild.”
“Reach for the stars, because if you’re a star, they’ll let you do it,” he added, referring to the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
Celebrity guests were certainly in no short supply Saturday, adding a bit of flavor to the show.
Kristen Wiig was the surprise host. Even she was surprised, being awakened in her bed to the news — though she quickly hopped into a variety of costumes, flashed the camera and reclined on a fur rug surrounded by candles while giving a short monologue about her mother, specifically thanking her for teaching how to breast-feed, though she misunderstands it as feeding babies full chicken breasts. She also sang a lullaby at the top of her lungs.
Martin Short showed up in a sketch in which he (as Ripley) and his wife (as Deirdre) explain to their horrified friends over Zoom how they traveled to Italy during the pandemic for “La Quarantina in La Springa,” the celebration of “all things pandemico” and ended up helping a Somali pirate smuggle PPE out of the country.
Josh Gad joined the cast in singing an ode to letting kids drink booze for Mother’s Day. (“Kids look drunk anyway,” sang Aidy Bryant.) And Tina Fey appeared on Weekend Update to offer a special prayer for mothers, saying, “Give us the courage to change the things we can, like our Zoom backgrounds.”
Eventually, as the formula goes, a surprise musician must appear to play a beloved song. Coldplay’s Chris Martin covered Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm” in the first remote episode and Miley Cyrus performed Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” in the second. On Saturday, Boyz II Men showed up to play a heart-wrenching version of their tune “A Song for Mama” over a photo collage of the cast and crew’s moms.
Speaking of music, Pete Davidson (of course) returned with another rap, this one an ode to actor Danny Trejo (featuring the actual Danny Trejo).
The sketches, meanwhile, mostly tackled (or at least referenced) our collective quarantine life. In one, Kenan Thompson played a pastor preaching over Zoom to a congregation that doesn’t know how to mute its collective mics, creating an awkward feedback loop. Another found Mikey Day’s son playing pranks on his pops — like putting thumbtacks on his toilet seat or changing the name of every contact in his phone to “Gigi Hadid” — and putting the footage on YouTube.
Sure, many sketches (including most of the aforementioned ones) felt half-baked on Saturday. But it remained singularly thrilling to watch the cast tackle bizarre ideas, such as a short video that featured Kyle Mooney as five different characters. And, in fairness, a good number of sketches have felt half-baked on every episode of the show that’s been produced since 1975 — that’s not exactly a new critique. It’s simply the nature of the beast.
But what this trio of remote shows taught us is that even when a format is tried and true, a change can shake some new life out of it. And perhaps this is a bit of projection after two months of quarantine, but it sure seemed like the cast attacked comedy with new vigor during the past few episodes.
They seem to be having more fun than they have in long while. As a result, so are we.
Which, you know, is about the best you can ask for during a crushingly awful global pandemic.