Tom Hanks Hosts a Made-From-Home Edition of ‘S.N.L.’

Larry David, Alec Baldwin and Chris Martin were among the celebrity guests who appeared from their home quarantines in an episode that also paid tribute to Hal Willner.

Credit…NBC Universal

What does “Saturday Night Live” look like without professionally crafted costumes, sets or hair and makeup? Without a studio audience or the ability of its cast members to be in the same place at the same time? This weekend, for the first time in the show’s 45-year history, audiences got the chance to find out.

Beginning with this week’s opening sketch, which showed all 17 cast members joining in a video call from their home quarantines and ended with Kate McKinnon exclaiming, “Live from Zoom, it’s sometime between March and August!,” it was clear this would not be your customary episode. Still, the show did all it could to keep things familiar, bringing in Tom Hanks as a guest host and Chris Martin as a musical performer and drawing upon its roster of famous alumni and celebrity pals.

It was a little over a month ago — March 7, to be exact — that “S.N.L.” broadcast its most recent live episode from its usual home at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. Daniel Craig (whose new James Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” had been postponed four days earlier) was the host; the Weeknd was the musical guest; and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who had just dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, made a surprise appearance in the show’s cold open.

There were even a couple of sketches that joked about how the spread of coronavirus could have unexpected effects on our lives. We laughed at the time.

But within days, the late-night talk shows announced that they were suspending their programs. “S.N.L.” — which has halted its season only a few times, usually because of writers’ strikes — soon followed suit. Even as the talk shows returned a short time after, in minimalist formats optimized for home-sheltering, it seemed hard to imagine how “S.N.L.”, with its sizable cast and substantial productions, could do the same.

Nonetheless, “S.N.L.” returned with a full complement of sketches that let us see directly into the homes of its performers. (We’ll be thinking about the prominently placed acoustic guitar in Colin Jost’s apartment for a long time.) Sure, sometimes the audio was garbled or the lighting was off, and the whole thing had a distinctly YouTube-circa-2009 aesthetic. But the familiar wing-and-a-prayer spirit of “S.N.L.” — let’s just put this out there and see what sticks — was there, too, and a lot of it stuck.

Hanks, who has been a frequent “S.N.L” host, dating back to the mid-80s, appeared in a segment recorded at his home, where he poked fun at his own status as one of the first celebrities to disclose that he had tested positive for coronavirus. (He and his wife, Rita Wilson, were both in Australia in March when learned they had the virus, and they were treated at a hospital there before being released a few days later.)

“Ever since being diagnosed, I have been more like America’s dad than ever before,” Hanks said. “Since no one wants to be around me very long and I make people uncomfortable.”

He said he had been treated well in Australia, adding: “They use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit when they take your temperature. So when I come in and they say, ‘You’re 36,’ which seemed very bad to me, it turns out 36 is fine — 38 is bad. So basically it’s how Hollywood treats female actors.”

Before offering his gratitude to hospital staff, emergency medical workers and other helpers, Hanks told viewers that this “S.N.L.” broadcast might be unusual.

“Is it going to look a little different than what you’re used to?” he asked. “Yes. Will it be weird to see sketches without big sets and costumes? Sure. But will it make you laugh? Eh. It’s ‘S.N.L.’ There’ll be some good stuff, maybe one or two stinkers. You know the drill.”

The lack of costumes and prosthetics didn’t stop the performers from reprising some of their best-known impersonations of political figures. Wearing a pair of granny glasses and a shirt that read “SUPER DIVA!”, Kate McKinnon played the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the host of her own home workout program.

Standing in front of hand-drawn posters that were taped to her walls, McKinnon exercised by lifting Q-tips, punching tea bags and dropping some of the personal insults that she calls Ginsburns: “Mitch McConnell said that the administration didn’t focus on the virus because they were too distracted by impeachment,” she said. “I mean, are you in Congress or Parliament? Because your timeline is funkadelic.”

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