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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: ‘SNL at Home’ Says Goodbye for the Season

"SNL at Home" is finally able to fully replicate the feeling of a standard episode of "Saturday Night Live."

Heidi Gardner, Martin Short, "Saturday Night Live at Home"

Heidi Gardner, Martin Short, “Saturday Night Live at Home”

NBC

This weekend, “Saturday Night Live” became “SNL at Home” for the third and final time. That’s right — with this latest edition of “SNL at Home,” “SNL’s” 45th season ends at, technically, 18 episodes. And it does so with the hope that it will be able to return to its normal format come September.

Host: Kristen Wiig

Of the three hosts to pop in during the run of “SNL at Home,” Kristen Wiig was the closest to a “real” host, doing both an opening monologue and goodnight for this episode. That was also the case for Tom Hanks, but not Brad Pitt, who did a cold open. Wiig got in on the sketch comedy action, leading the “Hair Vlog” sketch.

Funnily enough, the strongest part of Wiig’s monologue isn’t even the monologue but the little lead-up intro, as one of the best aspects of this “SNL at Home” experiment has been the show’s realization that unnecessary visual effects are extremely funny. (See: the other week’s “What’s Up With That?” sketch.)

While “SNL at Home” certainly isn’t the show at its most “normal” format, that hasn’t stopped “SNL” from trying to replicate said format under these circumstances. However, part of the reason “SNL at Home” has been working is because of how outside-the-box it can get. But this episode is more dedicated to staying within normal confines than the previous at-home episodes this season, despite featuring the “Beer Money” sketch, which never would’ve made it anywhere close to air under normal circumstances.

“Zoom Catch-Up” is the biggest offender in this episode, as it’s another recurring sketch that works much better in the live format. It’s a follow-up to “New Orleans Vacation” with James McAvoy, only with Martin Short as Heidi Gardner’s partner, and it’s a sketch (with a performer like Short) whose energy simply requires a live audience. And the premise requires in-person lateness, not folks waiting on a Zoom call for four hours.

Part of what also makes this episode feel like a normal episode of “SNL” and nothing special is the use of extras to fill out sketches like “Virtual Graduation Cold Open” and “Zoom Church.” (The sketch with extras that works best is “Song for the Kids.”) But it also eliminates a lot of the makeshift, DIY nature of the first two “SNL at Home” episodes. The second episode really was the sweet spot, as it had that DIY spirit while also having obvious production and post-production improvements. In three episodes though, “SNL at Home” ends up just as polished as standard “SNL,” which also eliminates a lot of the excitement.

Of the established “SNL” bits and characters, “What’s Wrong with This Picture: Mother’s Day Edition” works best. The “What’s Wrong with This Picture” format is always the same and there’s never a real twist, but it works because of Kenan Thompson’s reactions and the insanity of the contestant characters (played by Melissa Villaseñor, Aidy Bryant, and Ego Nwodim here).

Pete Davidson raps one last time in this episode, and while it’s no “Tucci Gang,” it does confirm the major issue with him going to the rap well so many times: While there’s no problem with his lyrics, Davidson’s flow leaves much to be desired. It all clicks once Chris Redd joins in, as it simply works so much better and highlights how Davidson’s flow is the same for every rap he does on the show, in and out of pandemic times.

Mikey Day’s solo “SNL at Home” sketches have been an entryway into the type of videos he’s familiar with, especially as the father of a son (who stars in this sketch and knocks it out of the park). So “Dad Prank Video” is a very specific sketch that works a lot better than another very specific sketch in this episode, “Hair Vlog.” Because Day clearly pays attention to detail when it comes to these types of videos he’s parodying, even down to things like the dumb voice modulation and line repeating.

Best Sketches of the Night: “Song for the Kids,” “Another MasterClass Quarantine Edition,” & “Dreams”

“SNL at Home” officially reached the “let kids drink” stage of quarantine in a sketch that could’ve easily made for a grand finale for this episode. As Ego Nwodim sings in the sketch, “Babies look drunk anyway.”

The basic premise and initial delivery of the song are funny on their own, but the combination of all that with adorable kids holding and drinking bottles of booze is what makes the sketch. The shift from that, to sober Pete Davidson really wanting to drink (and do crack) to Cecily Strong’s argument for letting dogs drink (as this episode finishes strong on this season’s love of Strong and dogs in sketches together) to sad drunk Beck Bennett also all work.

The first “SNL at Home” episode had newbie Chloe Fineman show off her very good, but very specific, celebrity impressions, so it makes sense for the last one to do the same. Only this time, it goes with more known — especially to “SNL” audiences — impressions and the inclusion of “SNL’s” other weird master impressionist, Melissa Villaseñor.

Fineman’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge impression is scarily good — and it’s a nice touch that leads to MasterClass’ “first Emmy-nominated class.” Her Britney Spears impression is also solid and topical (“Oops, I burned my gym down”), with a line that explains how to truly get through quarantine: “The thing that helps me most in quarantine is being rich.” As for Villaseñor, it’s definitely unexpected that, of all her impressions, she’d go for John Mulaney… but with every very specific hand gesture she makes, it’s clear that this impression choice was the right call.

“Dreams” functions both as one of those rare ethereal sketches “SNL” does every so often (like “Sad Mouse”) that hit hard, and offer a fine farewell to the season, as every cast member dreams of a non-quarantine future. Plus, with “Clair de Lune” scoring this sketch, even something as ridiculous as Kenan Thompson ending up in “Tootsie” packs something of an emotional punch.

Worst Sketches of the Night: “Virtual Graduation Cold Open,” “Hair Vlog,” & “Lighthouse Keeper”

Whatever potential “Virtual Graduation Cold Open” has at the beginning of the episode — because a sketch about graduation in these quarantimes makes a lot of sense — is squandered as soon as Alec Baldwin’s Trump shows up doing his whole schtick. At this point — whether you think Baldwin’s Trump is good or not — it’s pretty difficult to satirize something that’s already such a joke, despite being real life.

This sketch might be really funny if you’re familiar with hair bloggers. If not, it mostly just feels like a waste of Kristen Wiig and Cecily Strong’s talents and the episode’s time. Aidy Bryant and Kenan Thompson as the people looking for hair advice are the funnier parts of the sketch, but the sketch as a whole isn’t all that much of anything.

If there’s anything “SNL at Home” has taught us, it’s that Kate McKinnon’s cat is a star. Unfortunately, Kate McKinnon’s cat is not in “Lighthouse Keeper.” The idea for the sketch is sound, as a lighthouse keeper who’s gone mad because of the sea and isolation, and is now giving advice for people quarantining. In execution, it might just make you want to watch “The Lighthouse” instead.

Final Thoughts

With this being the last “SNL” of the season, there is a sense of “let’s just get this all over with” in this episode that didn’t exist previously. It also felt the most like a standard episode of “SNL,” all things considered, which reveals how much the “SNL at Home” format worked because of its differences from standard episodes of “SNL.”

However, this episode certainly had the best Weekend Update segment of all three “SNL at Home” episodes, to the point where instead of focusing on the weirdness of the segment, now we can get back to debating Colin Jost and Michael Che’s performance and delivery. (Che brought back the sad drinking and spent most of Update worried about not making it through summer for one terrible reason or another. It was a good runner throughout Update.)

It also helped that Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pirro appearance and Tina Fey’s Tina Fey appearance both helped keep the energy up for Updates, while also giving Jost and Che other people to play off besides just themselves to wrap this all up.

Ultimately, it’s been a solid season of “SNL” but also a strange one, given its ending. Now, just one final question must be asked of this episode: How on Earth did the inscrutable “Beer Money” and trippy“Eleanor’s House” end up getting the green light? That’s not even a knock against them, just an acknowledgment of how weird they are, even for “SNL.” Especially “Beer Money,” as Kyle Mooney has apparently reached his final form in these “SNL at Home” episodes (and for once, his sketches don’t get cut for time).

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