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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: ‘SNL at Home’ Goes Down Better the Second Time

The second go at "SNL at Home" is a major improvement on the first.

"Saturday Night Live at Home"

“Saturday Night Live at Home”

NBC

A couple of weeks ago, “Saturday Night Live” returned — sort of — with a special “SNL at Home” episode. For obvious reasons, the episode was uneven and it was clear everyone involved was just trying to figure it all out. This week marks the return of that format, and what a difference a couple of weeks has made. Notably, in terms of production quality and adjusting to the lack of a live audience. Sure, this second “SNL at Home” loses some of the disheveled charm of the first. But it feels familiar, and now like anything can happen.

Host: Brad Pitt

Unlike the first “SNL at Home” episode, no official host or musical guest was announced during Darrell Hammond’s cast introductions. So while Brad Pitt opens things up for the episode — fulfilling the real Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “request” for Pitt to play him on “SNL” — unlike Tom Hanks, he doesn’t do an opening monologue. He does eventually introduce Miley Cyrus as the musical guest — who covers Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” — with the “SNL” set behind him.

Pitt’s cold open is also one of the best “SNL” cold opens in a very long time, as it isn’t beholden to waiting for the “woo”s to go down with every celebrity appearance and it isn’t reacting to or acting against Alec Baldwin’s Trump. Instead, it goes with the much funnier bit of Pitt’s Fauci translating Trump’s misinformation, to reacting with sheer confusion and horror. It’s comparable to Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, only with actual effort on both a production and performance level.

Kenan Thompson’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz impression is one that is surely funny to some people for reasons other than “he’s doing a funny accent,” as they know who the actual David “Big Papi” Ortiz is. This sketch takes the bit away from the Weekend Update desk and into the kitchen, and it might actually work better this way. Especially for the weirder bits like the fact that the “simple dish” being made requires so much meat. But if you’ve never known who “Big Papi” is and have no idea who Bad Bunny is, the chances of this sketch doing anything for you are slim.

As mentioned in the previous “SNL at Home” review, this format is going to be great for performers like newbies Chloe Fineman and Ego Nwodim — and Bowen Yang, who was strangely absent last week — and underused talents like Melissa Villaseñor. This episode confirms that point, as Fineman gets another solo sketch in “Airbnb Commercial” and Villaseñor also gets one in the surreal “Melissa Seals the Deal.” “Airbnb Commercial” is the kind of sketch that reveals just how much Fineman is thriving in this new format, as well as just how endlessly talented she is as a comedian. Whenever things get back to normal, hopefully “SNL” capitalizes on that.

“Melissa Seals the Deal,” on the other hand, is completely weird… and perfect for that. It’s also another reminder that the lack of Villaseñor on the show in its usual format is criminal, as she always knocks it out of the park. The bits we learn about her “date” in this sketch paint a picture without there even being anyone else for Villaseñor to play off.

“Released Early” is a topical sketch that works on that level but is elevated by Aidy Bryant. Her character coming clean with Chris Redd’s “T-Ready” about who she is because she thought he was going to “rot” in jail — 600 years for pirating a “Sopranos” box set — is easily the highlight of an already solid sketch.

Also: Who else feels a deep connection to Chris Redd’s couch after seeing it multiple times during this “SNL at Home?”

The concept of Heidi Gardner as Mandy, Paul Rudd’s cousin he hasn’t seen since they were seven years old, isn’t deep. She has not changed since they were seven. That’s it. Well, that and Gardner getting in some slams at Rudd for not being in the celebrity “Imagine” video (“So you weren’t famous enough to be in it?”) and losing the Golden Globe to Ramy Youssef. This sketch feels more DIY than others in the episode, taking on the format of a YouTube sketch that wouldn’t be out of place in a live episode.

“The Reveal” is a simple sketch that doesn’t go too deep into the concept of a Zoom-based “Law & Order.” But that’s because it’s more about “the reveal” of Beck Bennett’s Detective Simms’ “masculine rock” song “Rare Steak.” It’s easy to imagine this sketch going on longer than it should if it were live, but the combination of Cecily Strong’s character performing her new song for the Zoom meeting, Bennett’s Simms deciding he just has to sing his bad song, and Heidi Gardner’s Debbie the killer arriving late (and then really enjoying the song) all works for how much the sketch just hits those beats and then gets out when it’s time.

Obviously, the bit for “Porhub” is trying to figure out which brand is using “We’ll be here for you.” and “Because we’re here,” as every brand now has seemingly looked to “Succession” for how they should present themselves. Looking at the production quality improvement between these two episodes, this fake commercial feels so much like something you’d see on a standard “SNL” episode.

While it’s now impossible to have a “Whiskers R We” sketch with the host as part of it, Kate McKinnon’s makeshift version of the recurring sketch is pretty fun. Specifically because of the obvious fact that the “cats” are all just McKinnon’s one cat. At one point, she even uses the sepia filter to make the cat look “brown.” It’s honestly just fun and cute, which isn’t exactly the way “SNL” sketches are usually described.

These recurring trendy workout sketches have been highlights of this season, and it’s great to see “SNL” make it work in this format. But while this sees Cecily Strong and Bowen Yang’s returns, Ego Nwodim steals this sketch as “Korona.”

Best Sketches of the Night: “What Up With That: At Home,” “Grocery Store Ad,” & “Aidy Bryant’s Childhood Journal”

There must be some kind of monkey’s paw situation going on that, after all these years, this is how “SNL’s” audience finally gets Kenan Thompson’s “What Up With That” sketch to return. But because this is the return of the beloved sketch, it also makes sure to go big, despite — or most likely, because of — being stuck within the confines of the Zoom call.

Unlike last episode’s “Zoom Call,” “Grocery Store Ad” figures out how to work the McKinnon/Bryant sketch dynamic far better. It also plays with the concept of social distancing while pretending — intentionally poorly — that they’re in the same place for this Bartenson’s Grocery Store commercial. Things like the handshake that doesn’t quite line up, the high five (complete with sound effect) — this sketch could thrive just on that aspect alone. But instead, it has a solid foundation with all the ridiculous products left behind (“extremely in stock”) during quarantine shopping.

Between this and “Visualizations,” hopefully every “SNL at Home” features a soothing Aidy Bryant at-home sketch that devolves into a mental breakdown. It’s great to watch, just like turtles were great for nine-year-old Bryant to watch… even if she didn’t know how to spell them. (Though it’s worth nothing that Bryant has done this journal-reading gimmick before in her own comedy.)

Worst Sketch of the Night: “Stuck in the House”

Pete Davidson’s raps were really fun during the first “SNL at Home.”

But this week, it’s kind of like, What else you got? Seriously. You can do other things, comedically, right? He does show up on Weekend Update — as himself, of course — and he was also in the “How Low Will You Go?” sketch last week. But if “SNL at Home” keeps going on, and Davidson just keeps doing basement raps while other cast members go outside the box and outside their (as well as this show’s) comfort zone, it’s going to stick out even more. (Adam Sandler has an established comedy music career on top of his entire established stand-up and acting career, so none of this is a judgment on his part in all of this. He even makes a Rob Schneider bit in 2020 work with this sketch!)

Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson

Kenan Thompson brought “What Up With That” back. That makes him the best performer, period.

Best Female Performer: The Ladies of “SNL”

The female performers of “SNL” regularly steal the show, but with this “SNL at Home,” every female performer gets a chance to steal the show.

Final Thoughts

While Pete Davidson noted on Weekend Update that “it’s weird without an audience,” this week’s Weekend Update was definitely better without an audience of three to five people on the Zoom call who made it sound like Colin Jost and Michael Che were keeping hostages, somewhere. There’s probably no change on Jost and Che’s end that would make it work, so maybe the solution is some canned applause and laughter after their jokes. Then it would be more laughter than the previous hostage scenario, but also something better than absolute silence, and Jost and Che would have something to riff on in terms of how absurd this all is. Because the riffing — while not a major part of their dynamic — has definitely been lost in this format.

Outside of Weekend Update though, there was a major improvement in this edition of “SNL at Home,” to the point where this is arguably one of the best episodes of the entire season. With better equipment for the cast and more of an idea of what they’re able to do, this was a fuller episode of “SNL at Home” than the first, which bodes well for the future of these special episodes.

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