Analysis | Brad Pitt plays Dr. Fauci and Miley Cyrus plays Pink Floyd on SNL’s excellent, second at home episode

So the cast, with a boost from guests such as Brad Pitt, Miley Cyrus, Charles Barkley, Paul Rudd, Adam Sandler and Bad Bunny, again put together what felt like an experimental version of its show by prerecording shorter-than-average segments either alone or together via video chat. It seems they learned a few things from their first go-round.

It bears repeating that creating sketch comedy as a team without being in the same room is tougher than drawing blood from a stone. Playing off one another in real time is the cornerstone of the entire shebang. Yet SNL’s cast and crew proved clever enough in their first remote episode to overcome these difficulties and mine our shared quarantine life — from difficulties with Zoom calls to being so utterly bored we turn to absurdist makeshift sports — for laughs. The element of surprise certainly helped, adding energy to surprise appearances from celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

That Saturday’s episode managed to be more surprising, more energetic and funnier than the first is a testament to the SNL team. Instead of repeating the same tricks, such as having a surprise guest host, the show brought back the cold open, which featured a brilliant piece of stunt casting. Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci joked that he’d like Brad Pitt to play him on the show — and that’s exactly what happened. Doing a spot-on impersonation of Fauci, Pitt explained some of President Trump’s more outlandish statements.

After a clip showing Trump calling the covid tests “beautiful,” Pitt’s Fauci said, “I don’t know if I would describe the test as beautiful, unless your idea of beauty is having a cotton swab tickle your brain.”

And as for testing, “When he said, ‘Everyone can get a test,’” Pitt-as-Fauci said, “What he meant was almost no one.”

As the cold open concluded, Pitt pulled off his Fauci wig and glasses and spoke as himself: “And to the real Dr. Fauci, thank you for your calm and your clarity in this unnerving time. And thank you to the medical workers, first responders and their families for being on the front line. And now, live, kinda, from all across America: It’s Saturday night.”

Another pleasant surprise was the return of cast members Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong, who were mostly absent during the first “SNL At Home.” To kick things off, Thompson brought back his recurring fake BET musical talk show “What’s Up With That?” during which he kept cutting off (the real) Charles Barkley while (the real) DJ Khalid watched on video chat. Strong then appeared as “Quarantina” to sing an ode to, well, quarantine-ing.

Later in the episode, Thompson’s David Ortiz hosted a cooking show featuring his cousin Big Bunny, hilariously played by Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny.

Following the new tradition of a pop star performing a classic tune, Miley Cyrus sat next to a fire pit and gave a stunningly heartfelt performance of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

Notably, the production value of the show felt much higher than the first go-round, which makes sense. A few sketches — such as “What’s Up With That?” and a spoof on CNN featuring Mikey Day as Brian Stelter broadcasting from home and accidentally turning on various goofy filters — didn’t have the homemade feeling of the last episode. Instead, it had a professional sheen one would expect from SNL. Pete Davidson’s rap “Quarantine in My House,” featuring his real mother and Adam Sandler and his family, sounded like something you might hear on the radio. And, though Colin Jost and Michael Che recorded from their homes while wearing T-shirts, Weekend Update included the traditional backdrop.

The episode also kept poking fun at life in quarantine. One sketch finds a number of SoulCycle instructors offering workout tips from their homes. Another finds (the real) Paul Rudd with nothing else to do but make “fun summer salads,” so he decides to video chat with an estranged cousin who continuously insults him.

SNL’s primary burden has long been the public’s impossibly high expectations. Forty-five years on the air causes many viewers to watch the show through nostalgia-tinted glasses. On a weekly basis, those lenses create constant comparisons between the memory of a show you loved and the uneven one you just watched.

The phenomenon likely took place Saturday. Now that we’ve had a remote episode, we have something to which to compare the second remote episode. But this time, that comparison proved to be a positive thing for the show.

NBC has kept mum on whether there will be future remote episodes, but during Weekend Update Jost hinted that there will be. Here’s to hoping there are, because the show’s cast and crew are proving the old proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention” — and they’re only getting better.

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