When Dr. Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66 told CNN that “of course” he would love Brad Pitt to play him on Saturday Night Live, the world took note. Fortunately, so did SNL Executive Producer Lorne Michaels.
Following its April 11 amateurish yet loveable remote episode, SNL returned on April 25 with a star-studded (Pitt, Paul Rudd, Adam Sandler), high-quality take on the quarantine format. With boosted cast morale (or just a kick in the ass from Michaels), sharper writing and nifty video editing, SNL pulled out all the stops for an episode that rivaled some of its best in both entertainment and, most impressively, production value.
While the Dr. Fauci cold open was the night’s least ambitious or creative sketch, it was a heartfelt ode to the most visible — and widely respected — member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The portrayal of Dr. Fauci marked Pitt’s first appearance on SNL since 1998 and his first (though unofficial) time hosting.
Dr. Anthony Fauci Cold Open
Before addressing the misinformation being spread about COVID-19 as a result of the liberties our President has taken with task force guidelines, Pitt as Fauci thanked “the older women in America who have sent me supportive, inspiring and sometimes graphic emails.” In a response to Trump claiming the country would have a vaccine “relatively soon,” Pitt as Fauci explained: “Relatively soon is an interesting phrase. Relative to the entire history of earth? Sure, the vaccine is going to come real fast. But if you were going to tell a friend, ‘I’ll be over relatively soon’ and then showed up a year and a half later, well, your friend may be relatively pissed off.’”
What Up With That
In the return of Kenan Thompson’s What Up With That? game show, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis revived their roles as giddy dancer and kooky saxophonist, while Charles Barkley, DJ Khaled and Lindsey Buckingham (a fuzzy Bill Hader) played along — until Thompson’s Diondre Cole interrupts with extended takes on his own catchy theme song. Throw in four more cast members and one’s seven year-old son, plus some very spunky visuals, and SNL has executed its most impressive logistical feat of the evening.
Stuck in the House
It’s true: I was reluctant to hear yet another budding rap tune accompany Pete Davidson in his mom’s Staten Island basement. But in a fantastic turn of events, underwear mask-clad Adam Sandler (presumably quarantined in one of his many non-Staten Island residences) joined the fun, instantly transforming Pete’s third basement song of the season into the best sketch of the night, not to mention a cultural anthem and artifact to be studied for generations to come, “Baking my own bread and it tastes like shit.”
All it took was using both sides of his toilet paper and grossing out his tween daughters with middle-aged parent PDA for man-child Sandler to remind us how great he is. Also noteworthy: Sandman’s sentimental nod to pal Rob Schneider: “You can do it!”
Featured player and master impressionist Chloe Fineman starred in a mock commercial as Airbnb host and Ooli, the Swedish house guest she gets stuck in isolation with. I’m not saying I’m happy quarantine happened, but I am saying it’s given Fineman (the next Kate McKinnon) the opportunity to shine in the structure she knows best, and prove her talents with the high value-per-minute screen time most first-year featured players could only dream of.
Miley Cyrus: Wish You Were Here (At Home)
Musical guest Miley Cyrus sang next to a fire pit that offered the scene a dramatic (if haunting) smokey red glow. Cyrus was joined by Andrew Watt, her guitarist who tested positive for COVID-19 in March and has since recovered. The duo followed Chris Martin’s lead in covering a song about loneliness and longing: They chose “Wish You Were Here,” a Pink Floyd song from 1975, the year SNL premiered.
Weekend Update: Trump Suggests Injecting Disinfectant
Weekend Update got a much-needed revamp from last time’s “hostage footage” vibe. Out with the creepy Zoom laughter and Colin Jost’s douchebag white boy guitar perfectly placed in the background (which he claims was unintentional) and in with the green screens and Pete Davidson cracks that could so easily be pure hostage footage; they effortlessly outshine any of Colin and Che’s efforts to mimic the real-deal Update desk. “I haven’t gotten a face tattoo yet, so a lot of people lost that bet.”
A few more notable sketches (watch them all on SNL YouTube):
My toes curl just a bit whenever Kenan Thompson pops up on my screen as OJ Simpson, but only Kenan could take on The Juice with poise and, dare I say, charm. ”Hey, it’s America’s dad, OJ Simpson!”
Heidi Gardner got the much-deserved chance to reprise Pretty Mandy, this time chatting on Zoom with her long-lost cousin Paul Rudd (she also reunited with her other long-lost cousin James Franco in 2017). “Little Paulie” politely excused himself (“freezing up!”) after Mandy’s childhood reminiscing crossed the line one too many times. “We kissed, and you started it!”
Whiskers ‘R We
Whiskers ‘R We employee Barbara DeDrew (self-proclaimed cat lady Kate McKinnon) advertised the “bottom of the barrel nobodies” left in stock (all portrayed by McKinnon’s cat, Nino). Included in the “fe-line up” was Boots, a “dominatrix who specializes in spit play and ding-dong punishment.” Notable, above all else, for Nino’s impressive range.
Melissa Villaseñor is only a worthwhile addition to the much too inflated season 45 cast when embracing her eccentric, cringey, hit-or-miss comedy, though this also renders her seemingly difficult for other cast members to bounce off of or collaborate with. It’s fitting, then, that her scene partner and featured hot date in Melissa Seals the Deal was, well … either a figment of her imagination or The Invisible Man.
For at least my (relatively short) lifetime, SNL has faced constant criticism for not being “what it used to be” and for showing little respect for the irreverence on which the show was founded in 1975. I’m too young to discuss this with any real authority, but I do know that, in reality, many fans new and old hold their childhood cast, or the era at the dawn of their interest in SNL, more beloved than any season that came before or after.
Sentimental value aside, this common formula makes sense. It gives time for adoring fans to watch their favorites grow old enough to find their footing in the real world after SNL (if they’re lucky) and nearly approach venerable “good ol’ days” status, while remaining young enough for those same fans to follow that journey in real time, and for each star’s brand of humor and cultural context to be relevant on a personal level from the start. I know many of my favorites are the ones who peaked in the mid-to-late 2000s, just as I was figuring out what SNL even was. (Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig)
We all deserve our own “glory days” of SNL that don’t stand in the shadow of a more critically acclaimed past. Even so, if the show continues past the reign of Lorne Michaels, I imagine people my age will scoff at younger generations for what we believe to be a low bar for humor on Weekend Update in 2052. No matter how many history books are written about the year 2020, the cool kids 30 years from now will not understand why a middle-aged underwear man and a doofy Staten Island kid being bored at home was so intensely and painstakingly, hilarious. I hope they never do.
Nicole Rovine is a senior in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.