Brow Beat

Saturday Night Live’s Second Quarantine Episode Had Funnier Sketches, Better Production Values, and Also, Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt dressed as Anthony Fauci.
Sure, why not? NBC

Saturday Night Live aired its second quarantine edition of Saturday Night Live at Home this week, with a much more polished episode than its first outing two weeks ago. The first coronavirus SNL opened on an unusually somber note, with recovered COVID-19 patient Tom Hanks awkwardly joking about life during a pandemic. This week was more of a return to form, starting with a cold open that played to one of the show’s key strengths and/or crutches: stunt-casting celebrities to impersonate people in the news. Usually, it’s up to fate and Lorne Michaels whether a new arrival is portrayed by Matt Damon or Kate McKinnon impersonating a possum, but quarantine rules are different. On April 10, White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota (after some prompting) that the best person to play him on Saturday Night Live might be Brad Pitt. The exchange begins at 7:06:

You can probably guess whom Saturday Night Live got to play Fauci this week. The man has had to deal with a lot of bullshit lately, so this is the rare case of SNL stunt-casting I unreservedly endorse. It’s also unusual for the show to use genuine footage of the actual Donald Trump—well, except for that one time they let him host a whole episode—but there’s nothing any impersonator or comedian could possibly add to Donald Trump’s recent remarks about injecting disinfectant, so it was wise not to gild the lily.

The rest of the show was a much closer approximation of pre-coronavirus SNL than two weeks ago, although the homemade production has led to a structural change: The sketches were shorter, and there were a lot more of them. Not including “Weekend Update” segments, the final pre-quarantine episode of SNL hosted by Daniel Craig had nine sketches; the John Mulaney episode that preceded it had eight. This week’s episode had 17 sketches, plus “Weekend Update,” plus Miley Cyrus performing Pink Floyd’s 1975 beginner’s guitar classic “Wish You Were Here.” The faster pace was an improvement in two ways: The show had more chances to be funny, and the inevitable misses didn’t overstay their welcome. It worked so well that it’d be nice to maintain when SNL returns to Studio 8H, although it would probably require a prohibitive number of scene changes.

The night’s best sketch was a new episode of Kenan Thompson’s long-running talk show spoof “What Up With That,” which imagined what the show might look like under quarantine. The result is actually funnier than your average pre-pandemic “What Up With That” segment because the editors correctly realized that if “What Up With That” were a real talk show, its production staff would necessarily be at least as unhinged as the talent. It’s been a little over a month since Jimmy Fallon started experimenting with homemade talk shows, and the form has not only matured, it’s gotten decadent enough to inspire this sort of baroque parody.

The night’s other highlights also saw SNL working in familiar modes. This week’s episode had three commercial parodies, all funny, each engaging with the pandemic on a different level. Chloe Fineman’s Airbnb ad is built around one of Airbnb’s pre-pandemic sales pitches—“becoming an Airbnb host is a way to meet new and exciting people”—but uses quarantine (and a great dual-role performance from Fineman) to ask whether or not that pitch ever made any sense to begin with:

Meanwhile, an ad for Pornhub was a spot-on parody of a new form of advertising: the sentimental “alone together” spot that lets us know that, although corporations like Amazon and Smithfield Foods cannot technically contract the coronavirus, they deeply sympathize with their puny human customers (as long as those customers are not also employees, in which case they are extremely, extremely expendable). SNL has access to the same stock footage libraries that ad agencies do, which means they were able to duplicate this loathsome new genre pretty exactly:

Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant took the most expansive approach to the pandemic, with a grocery store ad built around two observations about life under quarantine: “There are some products people won’t buy, even if everything else is sold out” and “Television produced under quarantine is bizarre and unconvincing.” The shots of McKinnon and Bryant attempting to interact with each other via green screen are expertly paced:

But the show’s most exquisitely crafted parody wasn’t an ad—it was Kenan Thompson’s pitch-perfect recreation of a genre of short film most viewers are (hopefully) not familiar with: O.J. Simpson’s Twitter posts commenting on current events and complaining that he’s not allowed to play golf. Here’s a representative sample:

And here’s Thompson’s version, which is not only a spot-on late-period O.J. impersonation, but smartly zeroes in on the weirdest thing about O.J.’s videos: his bizarre conviction that anyone would want to know what he thinks about anything.

Finally, SNL is extending the DIY spirit of Saturday Night Live at Home to include the audience. “Weekend Update” co-hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost have a long-running gag where they make each other read career-ending jokes they have never seen before, live on air. Here’s a typical pre-pandemic example:

On this week’s “Weekend Update,” Jost explained that they’re going to allow one lucky, philanthropically minded civilian to join in the fun, in order to raise money for hunger relief charities Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, World Central Kitchen, and No Kid Hungry.

If you’d like to force Michael Che to read a joke you have written, you can bid here. At press time the price was already up to $29,000, and there’s nearly a week to go, but remember: Four years at Harvard costs $185,360, so anything less is a bargain.