After a few brief moments in the first canned episode “Saturday Night Live … At Home” forced by the coronavirus lockdown, the venerable NBC comedy franchise rallied to give it another virtual chance this weekend.
Brad Pitt brought a glowing star quality to the cold opening, which included Oscar winner “Once upon a time … in Hollywood” wearing a silver wig to play the advisor to the Coronavirus task force from the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, ruminating on President Donald Trump handling the COVID-19 crisis.
Following Trump’s high-profile comments on UV light and disinfectant injections, Brad-as-Fauci grinned, “I know I’m not supposed to touch my face, but …”
After a few more predictable searches, Pitt whipped his silver wig and praised the frontline health warriors of the United States – and the “calm and clarity” of Dr. Fauci – before declaring, “Live a little, all over America, it’s Saturday night! “
Sure, Kenan Thompson’s “What’s Up with That” segment with Charles Barkley and a dated Snapchat filter sketch fell flat after that, but it all still seemed … welcome. Sloppy, yes, but necessary.
So what is it? Is “SNL” back to its dilapidated roots and not ready for prime time? Or is it engulfed by the obvious limitations of a on-the-fly format powered by static visuals and glitchy sound?
It’s more complicated than that.
Social media mercenaries have spoken at length about the legendary late-night laughter: “This show has been rubbish since (insert here the reference of the 70s, 80s and 90s of your heyday)”, say the Twitterverse masses, on an annual loop.
Of course, according to 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.
Two weeks ago, the first episode “At Home” drew 6.7 million viewers, making it the second highest-rated episode since Eddie Murphy’s comeback in the 1980s.
Saturday’s star cameos by Adam Sandler and Bad Bunny – not to mention a cover of Miley Cyrus from Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” – seemed stacked to complete this game. Did they? Not really. Even washing Pete Davidson’s hands after a bit of masturbation (live, from Staten Island!) Couldn’t do that.
But the bottom line is: people have been looking for an excuse to declare this 45-year-old comedic institution “dead” for decades. A global pandemic probably cannot do it.
The hope of magic – and the sweet relief of laughter – is stronger than the desire to be a cynical wheelchair critic who creaks everywhere in a comic comfort zone. New York needs the potential of lightness to fight this global scourge.
Beyond that, the world still seems to be hungry for this healing tradition – and it is one that only NYC can offer.