‘SNL’ recap: (Not really) Live From New York (and other places), but great to have it back

“Saturday Night Live” returned looking very different from the late-night comedy show that has imprinted itself on American culture over 45 seasons. 

Saturday’s new episode, the first since production shut down after the March 7 episode hosted by Daniel Craig, featured a unique cold open: 17 cast members in boxes on a Zoom screen.

“It’s wonderful to see my beautiful castmates on this technological approach to trying to do a live show,” said Kenan Thompson, the longest-serving member of the group.

Kate McKinnon then offered the bizarre-o version of the trademark “SNL” opening: “And live from Zoom, it’s somewhere between March and August.”

And, as host Tom Hanks then explained, the episode wasn’t really live, it was filmed by the cast members at their homes in New York and beyond and it was not going to look like it usually does. But, “What the heck! let’s give it a shot.” 

The vibe was different from the get-go. Ousted from its now way-too-cozy Studio 8H, the iconic NBC late-night show did its best to adjust to the age of coronavirus, as late-night talk shows have been doing as they have been returning in remote locations.

The opening credits revealed the changed situation, as the cast members weren’t shown against glamorous nightlife scenes in New York, the U.S. city most heavily hit by COVID-19. (The “SNL” family lost long time music producer Hal Willner last week to complications related to coronavirus. The cast, along with former “SNL” player Adam Sandler, offered a tribute late in the episode.)

America’s Dad:‘SNL’ recap: Remote edition looked strange, but host Tom Hanks offered the comfort we need

Instead, cast members, accompanied by the familiar “SNL” theme, were seen in the credits at home, with Beck Bennett doing laundry, Mikey Day reading to his son and McKinnon cuddling with her cat. Some were a bit disheveled, but Alex Moffat, stepping into the shower, showed dedication to hygiene. 

Chris Martin provided music and almost regulars Alec Baldwin via phone as President Donald Trump and Larry David as Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared, giving the episode some feeling of normalcy. 

The immediate comic standout was McKinnon as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who offered tips for staying healthy in RBG’s Workout Corner. “I’m 87 years old,” she said. “I went to law school during the Spanish Flu,” which took place in 1918. McKinnon’s cat made a cameo: “That’s my trainer. If I mess up, he eats me.”

Other segments tried to incorporate the remote nature of the episode, with a corporate Zoom meeting, a teen (Heidi Gardner) reviewing movies on YouTube and Day as a gamer in “Cam Playz Dat.”

For comic quality, we’ll give remote “SNL” a … aw, forget it. We’re giving this one an A+. Call it the coronavirus curve or whatever you want, but the most important thing is that a show viewers have come to love (and sometimes not so much, but that’s part of a long relationship) over 45 seasons is back. We’ll get to the critical assessments, but maybe not right now.

Hanks, who had changed from a suit to a jeans jacket, closed the evening by saying: “Well, that’s our show. We hope it gave you something to do for a little while. … Stay safe, everybody. Good night.”

Then the credits rolled against a forlorn shot of the empty “SNL” stage, which usually would be crowded with the host, musical guest and cast members saying goodbye and hugging each other. That seems long ago.

Regardless of the format, it’s good to have you back in our homes, “SNL,” even if you can’t be in yours.

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