It is a hoary old cliche that “the show must go on.” It often feels more like something you would hear Judy Garland say to energize a crestfallen Mickey Rooney to buck up his spirits right before the variety show they put together in a local barn as a fundraiser for one thing or another seems about ready to fall apart in order. And while it certainly doesn’t seem to be within its bones to embrace such sentimentality, Saturday Night Live did just that as a spike in the Covid-19 omicron variant forced a majority of the cast and crew to abandon the show’s Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
The result was a show that felt unusual in the numerous ways it deviated from the expected norms but still managed to entertain and get folks into the holiday spirit.
Last night’s episode was to be actor Paul Rudd’s fifth time hosting the show, allowing him admittance into the SNL‘s “Five Timers Club,” a long-time running bit. And the show wasn’t about to let that go by unnoticed even in the face of the extraordinary events of the day as Tom Hanks – whose fifth time hosting in 1990 saw the first appearance of the Five Timers Club – and Tina Fey, alongside a pretaped greeting from fellow Five Timer Steve Martin, welcomed Rudd into their august ranks. After a brief explanation as to the unusual nature of the evening’s show, the three, joined by regular cast members Michael Che and Kenan Thompson, spent the balance of the episode introducing the various pretaped pieces produced earlier in the week for the show intermixed with classic Christmas bits from the shows past.
Among the pretapes that had already been produced for the intended lineup of last night’s show “A Night With Pete Davidson” was by far the standout. Shot predominantly in black-and-white, it peered into the future year 2054 to see cast member Pete Davidson now an older, bitter Catskills-esque nightclub comic performing an act recreating his old SNL bits alongside a robotic Colin Jost. The part didn’t call for a wide ranging of acting, but what it did require Davidson supplied quite well. The piece combined just right amount of humor and melancholic sentimentality to work on a Christmas-themed show.
On the opposite side of things, the “Christmas Socks” song parody went on for way too long and felt way past the sell-by date for a parody of that overly mawkish “Christmas Shoes” song from 2000. Had the show gone according to plan, it feels like this is one of the pieces that would have been cut during dress rehearsal, hours before the live show.
Among the classic pieces presented last night were such bonafide classics as Steve Martin’s “A Holiday Wish,” from his December 1986 hosting appearance and the perennial TV Funhouse stop-motion animated “Christmas Time For the Jews” musical number with Darlene Love.
Diehard SNL fans got a treat when Hanks introduced one of his favorite Christmas-themed sketches from one of his guest hosting episodes, “Carl Sagan’s Global Warming Christmas Special.” The sketch featured then-cast member Mike Meyers as the noted scientist/author/television personality Sagan trying to warn people about the dangers of global warming with Hanks coming in as Dean Martin who tries to get things back onto a more traditionally festive track. Also joining in are Victoria Jackson as a teary-eyed Sally Struthers, Dana Carvey as Paul McCartney, Jan Hooks as singer Crystal Gayle and Phil Hartmen as science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov. The sketch is inexplicably excised from the episode as it exists in the swath of edited episodes of the show available for streaming on Hulu and Peacock. (Oddly enough, the sketch remains intact on Hulu’s offering of last night’s show, which belies the idea that it was cut elsewhere due to a music rights issue for incidental music within it.)
The show’s “Weekend Update” segment eschewed the regular news desk set in favor of Che and Fey sitting on directors in front of the Home Base set telling the jokes that were written for the segment to Rudd, Hanks and Thompson seated in the audience. With the way the camera cuts between the two groups, it feels less like an Update sequence than it is just a few cast members trying out jokes on their colleagues. And that brings an unexpected feeling of intimacy to the proceedings we usually don’t get from the show when it is running normally.
Given the other shutdowns of Broadway shows that hit over the preceding couple of days leading up to the weekend, it would have been perfectly understandable if the show ere to go dark. But soldier on they did, with cast and crew delivering an installment of Saturday Night Live that contained far more hits than misses, a daunting achievement in the best of circumstances. To do so under the conditions they were in is nothing short of extraordinary.