After some sketchy moments in the first canned “Saturday Night Live … At Home” episode forced by the coronavirus lockdown, NBC’s venerable comedy franchise rallied to give it another virtual go this weekend.
Brad Pitt brought some red-hot star quality to the cold open, which featured the “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” Oscar winner donning a silver wig to play White House coronavirus task force advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, ruminating on President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Following Trump’s much publicized comments about UV light and disinfectant injections, Brad-as-Fauci grimaced: “I know I’m not supposed to touch my face, but …”
After a few more predictable digs, Pitt whipped off his silver wig and praised America’s frontline health-care warriors — and Dr. Fauci’s “calm and clarity” — before declaring: “Live, kinda, from all across America, it’s Saturday night!”
Sure, the subsequent Kenan Thompson “What’s Up with That” segment with Charles Barkley and a dated Snapchat filter sketch fell flat after that, but it still all felt somehow … welcome. Sloppy, yes, but needed.
So, which is it? Is “SNL” back to its scrappy, not-ready-for-primetime roots? Or is it being sunk by the obvious limitations of an on-the-fly format fueled by static visuals and glitchy audio?
It’s more complicated than that.
Social media mercenaries have long s–t-talked late-night’s legendary laugh factory: “This show has sucked since (insert the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s reference from your youthful heyday here),” the Twitterverse masses opine, on an annual loop.
Sure, depending on your generation, “SNL” jumped the proverbial shark when John Belushi or Gilda Radner or Chris Farley or Phil Hartman died. But we didn’t stop watching.
The first “At Home” installment two weeks ago pulled 6.7 million viewers, making it the second-highest rated episode since ‘80s cast breakout Eddie Murphy’s much ballyhooed return to the 30 Rock stage scored 10 million viewers in December 2019.
This Saturday’s star-studded cameos by Adam Sandler and Bad Bunny — not to mention a Miley Cyrus cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” — seemed stacked to top that deck. Did they? Not really. Not even Pete Davidson’s hand-washing after masturbating bit (Live, from Staten Island!) could do that.
But here’s the bottom line: People have searched for an excuse to declare this 45-year-old comedic institution “dead” for decades. A global pandemic probably can’t do it.
The hope of magic — and the sweet relief of laughter — is stronger than the desire to be a cynical armchair cultural critic who craps all over a comedic comfort zone. New York needs the potential of levity as we fight this global plague.
Beyond that, the world appears to still be hungry for this healing tradition — and it is one only NYC can deliver.