Live from New York, it’s another successful season of “Saturday Night Live” (SNL). After six months off the air to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic, “SNL” returned in early October, just in time for the presidential election. Much to the audience’s benefit, “SNL” managed to allow a limited number of viewers to attend the live shows in Studio 8H, Rockefeller Center. While the audience is masked and socially distanced, the cast members require frequent COVID testing and screening in order to be able to perform in close proximity to one another without masks on.
In its first six episodes, this season of “SNL” has delivered an impressive lineup of hosts and musical guests including Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, the Foo Fighters, and Justin Bieber. More than ever, each skit written for these episodes is incredibly current, focusing heavily on the before and aftermath of the election, and on the “new normal” that society is adjusting to during the pandemic.
The show brought back Alec Baldwin to play President Donald Trump, former cast member Maya Rudolph as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and legendary comedian Jim Carrey as President-elect Joe Biden. These three A-listers were featured during the introductory sketch, or “cold open” of every episode so far this season, reenacting the political highlights of the week. It seems that the writers of “SNL” work up until the last hours and minutes before the show goes live, as they are able to incorporate the most relevant and current material from the ongoing U.S. news cycle. For example, Joe Biden was named President-elect on Saturday, Nov. 7, and, that night, “SNL” went live with a CNN cold open that declared victory for the candidate.
Because many of the political sketches this season are written in haste, they often miss the mark with the studio audience, and in some cases, receive negative reviews. Nonetheless, since these skits are written so close to the show going live, they deserve props for reimagining political events so quickly. “SNL” has historically played an important role in conveying political messages to its millions of viewers and takes that responsibility seriously. In an interview with the New York Times, “SNL’s” creator, Lorne Michaels, said that this season would provide a sense of unity “and community. And that sanity is somehow in the air.” In this election season, while the show gives the Republican politicians it portrays almost no redeeming qualities, it is sure to criticize the Democrats as well.
The political sketches only take up part of the air-time of each episode, though. The rest of the time is filled with social-distancing jokes, among others, that show off the writing chops of “SNL’s” comedians. When Bill Burr hosted Oct. 10, he and cast member Kate McKinnon played a couple seeing their friends for the first time since the lockdown. After spending months in isolation, they continuously confuse words, like “unpresidented” with unprecedented. When their friends correct them, Bill and Kate are accusingly and hysterically apologetic, hilariously reflecting the pent-up tension that so many have felt during this period of isolation.
Though this season of “SNL” has seen bumps in the road in terms of a lack of real-time audience laughter and unrefined jokes, it has stood by its viewers as they try to process the haphazard political and social world we live in. In taking on the mess that has been 2020 humorously, “SNL” is continuing to fulfill its historic role, providing comic relief for millions of people who are in desperate need of a break.