Nastia G., Arts Department Co-Editor
In March, coronavirus swept through the world, leaving a destructive trail in its wake. Auditoriums, professional theaters, cinemas, and art galleries were forced to close down to prevent the spread of the virus, as the threat of exposure was high in tightly packed spaces such as these. The arts were essentially forced to shut down. For many, the only way to see other people and stay entertained was through cable television, Netflix, YouTube, and TikTok. While networks and media companies worked tirelessly to provide viewers with sufficient amusement with which to stay busy when the world shut down, this task proved far more difficult than most realize. Even the most well-known television series struggled to deliver entertainment with new episodes. Many networks placed strict COVID-19 regulations in studios to keep actors, technicians, and directors safe. Most shows were postponed until further notice. Live shows faced a particularly brutal beating. To survive, many live shows continued to air from hosts’ and guest stars’ homes via Zoom or Skype. Saturday Night Live’s 45th season ended in sketches recorded and designed by the stars from their own living rooms.
For the first time ever, Saturday Night Live (SNL) was by no means “live.” The skits were pre-recorded, Studio-8H was empty, and there was certainly no live audience. Without in-person viewers’ energy to fuel hosts and actors, delivering an exciting, fast-paced, and witty sketch was difficult. Nonetheless, the show’s ratings increased significantly over quarantine. SNL: At-Home Edition saw a 12% increase in ratings from the average of the rest of the 45th season, not including the extremely popular Eddie Murphy episode. Countless guest stars, including Tom Hanks and Tina Fey, offered their time to bring a little joy back into the country as remote hosts.
As viewers watched from homes around the country, there was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and community throughout the nation. Tom Hanks, a COVID-19 survivor, delivered a poignant, relatable speech to his friends across the country, encouraging all to “stay safe” and remember that “we are going to get through this together.” The quarantine sketches satirized the pains of everyday life in quarantine, from technical issues with Zoom meetings to the creative ways in which different companies have tried to keep revenue flowing. However, SNL also took the time to offer sincere appreciation for all health care workers and condolences to those who have lost loved ones because of the pandemic. The cast and crew paid tribute to Hal Willner, the show’s music producer, who passed away in April due to complications associated with coronavirus.
On October 3, the show returned in full swing, with some adjustments. Audience members are now permitted, but they must follow strict safety protocols, including social distancing, mask-wearing, and a required rapid COVID-19 test. The audience consists of only 100 members, which is about a quarter of the studio’s capacity. All audience members now receive a $150 stipend for attending the show, making them qualify as employees. This tactic has allowed SNL to follow New York’s strict gathering guidelines for businesses and performances. Working with the Department of Health, the show hopes to continue production in a safe, organized manner.
To kickstart the 46th season, actor and comedian Chris Rock hosted an all-new line-up complete with an absurd presidential debate, a fictional talk-show with Drew Barrymore, and a comedic career spotlight of at-home stunt performers. The episode experienced the show’s highest rating for a season premiere since 2016. Bill Burr, Issa Rae, and Adele have also hosted the show since the premiere, and John Mulaney is set to take the reins next week. Actor Jim Carrey plays former Vice President Joe Biden in mock presidential debates with Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump. Maya Rudolph made a return to the show as Vice Presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris.
As the presidential election nears, recent critics have expressed their feelings that the show has a party bias that isolates conservative viewers. By doing so, television critics say, Saturday Night Live has made the tens of millions of citizens who identify as conservatives avoid watching the show, which is a huge loss in potential ratings. In an opinion piece for the Harvard Crimson, Romy Dolgin criticized Chris Rock’s pleas to audience members to vote for the Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden. Dolgin wrote, “Begging audience members to vote for a specific candidate is not funny… allowing a small group of joke writers to decide who’s allowed in popular culture creates further divisions in a country that’s already pulling apart at the seams.” Several other critics have concerns similar to Dolgin’s. Many believe that the show’s overwhelmingly Democrat-identifying cast and crew members make SNL a partisan show set on mocking the Republican party.
Despite the criticism of the show’s methods of tackling political issues, it has remained an integral part of Saturday nights for decades. SNL has received critical acclaim for its work. It has received nine Emmy nominations, including three winners. The show was awarded the title of “Best Variety Sketch Series” for the fifth time since its pilot. It is America’s longest-running sketch comedy show, which is no small feat. It has a large fan-following and is a well-known and popular show in households across the country. The show’s return was marked with excitement and anticipation to its audience nationwide, and it is preparing for its most unique and exciting season yet!