SNL at Home Review: Can't Quite Clear Season Finale Tradition Hurdle

To quote the great prophet Michael Lee "Meatloaf" Aday, looks like two out of three ain't bad. NBC's Saturday Night Live put the finishing touches on its 45th season (let that sink in) with another edition of "SNL at Home". The first two efforts were fun and innovative experiments, with the Brad Pitt/Miley Cyrus edition in particular hitting on all cylinders and demonstrating the format's future potential (holiday break editions, summer "Weekend Update" eps, etc.). That said, to be blunt? It just doesn't work as a format for the season finale, and I imagine it wouldn't work for the pre-holiday break episode, either.

Saturday Night Live wrapped up its 45th season with "SNL at Home", courtesy of NBC.
Saturday Night Live wrapped up its 45th season with "SNL at Home", courtesy of NBC.

One of SNL's traditions is that the pre-holiday and season finale editions are usually the punchy, loopy ones where everyone's already got one foot out the door and heading on vacation or their next project. That means going with hosts and musical guests that are "show-friendly", meaning they don't need a lot of hand-holding during production and rehearsal. With folks like Justin Timberlake and Cyrus, you have the best of both worlds: host and musical talent. Aside from "Weekend Update", the sketches tend to be a mix of current issues, experimental pieces, and sketches that didn't make the cut earlier in the season but got a stay of execution. The combination of a more-jacked-than-usual studio audience and a line-up of SNL alum and other famous faces making guest appearances offsets some of the more "questionable" sketch moments, with a "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" understanding that these shows are the equivalent of the last day of class before summer vacation.

So you see where the problem lies with having "SNL at Home" serve as a wrap-up: you're missing the two key components. Obviously, the studio audiences can't be back yet but I was surprised they didn't go back to a Zoom-like audience for "Weekend Update", at least. Kristen Wiig made all the sense in the world to host the season finale, except this time. She's a comedic powerhouse who chews up the stage and screen every time she's out there, but having her in the "at home" format reminded me of how restrictive things actually are. Along with that, the guest appearances from names like Martin Short and Tina Fey lost their "wow" factor for two reasons.

First, there's wasn't that live audience reaction for viewers to vibe off of. Then there's the matter of how spoiled viewers have gotten over the past two months when it comes to "guest appearances". Short and Fey would be much more impressive names to put on the table if we weren't seeing shows like Community and Parks and Recreation reuniting for table reads and new efforts. In a way, this edition of "SNL at Home" had much to prove than the previous runs. Maybe those expectations were a little too high and unfair considering our current health crisis "big picture", but SNL's 45th season finale couldn't quite clear the bar.

So Here's What Worked on SNL at Home, and What Missed the Mark

So what worked for us? Wiig's cold open was every bit the Wiig we wanted and needed in our lives, and the anthem about letting kids get drunk during home lockdown was just the anthem a lot of exasperated parents needed to hear. Chloe Fineman's Phoebe Waller-Bridge was eerily good, and her Britney Spears was on-point even though the latter scenes felt like they were beating a thematic dead horse. If you close your eyes, I dare anyone to tell the difference between Melissa Villaseñor and John Mulaney. We mentioned it last review, but it needs saying again: Villaseñor is a scary-good talent to watch. As for Pete Davidson and Chris Redd? They rapped an ode to the greatest living person on the planet, Danny Trejo. My inability to be objective about anything involving Trejo makes this the best sketch of the night (hey, at least we own it).

"Weekend Update" can (almost) do no wrong, with props to Michael Che and Colin Jost for continuing to show why they deserve the desk. Seeing the glee on Che's face and the twisted discomfort on Jost's when Jost is made to read an uncomfortable joke never gets old, but leave it to Fey to come out and slay it with what was a combination of a familial primal scream and a motherly video ransom message. Two of the best lines: "I don't know Latin and now I'm in charge of teaching it to my kids" and "Getting to spend more time with my passwords".

I need more of Aidy Bryant's "Eleanor's House" in my life: the combination of children's show theme with a constant vibe that things could get very ugly very quickly made for a wonderfully disturbing watch (with streaming series spinoff potential). Musically, we had Boyz II Men singing "A Song for Mama (At Home) so really, how can you go wrong? Blatantly attempt to kick us in "The Feels"? Yup, and so what?

On the flip side, I think I need Alec Baldwin to be done with Donald Trump because the virtual commencement cold open left us feeling just that: cold. "Hair Vlog" was creepy-weird but not in a good way: more in an "I feel very uncomfortable watching this way". If you look at it through that lens, then your feelings might be different. "Zoom Church" felt like nothing more than an excuse to get as much of the cast together as possible, and "What's Wrong with This Picture: Mother's Day Edition" felt like it would never end.

"Zoom Catch-Up" demonstrated what we usually get when Martin Short's in a sketch: 90% of the time it will be genius, but those 10% times usually end up with what we get here which is the comedic genius trying way too hard. We get it: you have a funny wig. Side note: I don't want Heidi Gardner's performance getting lost in this because she was on point, bringing just the right amount of "pretentious annoying" to the sketch. Kate McKinnon's "Lighthouse Keeper", Mikey Day's "Dad Prank", and Kyle Mooney's "Beer Money" sketches felt like narrow-focused efforts that went long but I'm guessing connected with someone out there. That said, while I wasn't the biggest fan of Mooney's effort it was still the boldest "beautiful disaster" of the three editions and I'm looking forward to more from him. And as a New Yorker, I needed "Dreams" to either punch me in "The Feels" or make me feel so uncomfortable that I piss myself laughing. It walked the line between the two, and it suffered for it (though Bryant stealing a dog from the park came damn near close).

So with that (and barring any special pre-election summer editions), we come to the end of another season of Saturday Night Live. I hope this isn't the last we're seen of these "SNL at Home" editions, because it's definitely a format worth revisiting and even "borrowing" from for the betterment of the overall season. Five years short of hitting the half-century mark, it's never too early for a little reinventing.

About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought on board as staff in 2017.

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