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SNL Returns with Tom Hanks as Host for Social Distancing Episode

The show's first at-home episode featured Zoom sketches and celebrity guests galore

Amanda Bell

Saturday Night Live returned on Saturday evening with its first new episode since going on hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic. The show delivered one major surprise right at the top of the episode as the night's host was none other than Tom Hanks. Hanks has hosted SNL several times in the past, of course, but this time was particularly significant. When Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson shared that they had received positive coronavirus diagnoses, the revelation brought home the severity of the situation for many fans, so it was fitting that he would be chosen to help usher Saturday Night Live through its first at-home edition.

"It is a strange time to try and be funny, but trying to be funny is SNL's whole thing, so what the heck. Let's give it a shot," Hanks said to open the show. "But why me as host? Well, for one, I have been the celebrity canary in the coal mine for the coronavirus, and ever since being diagnosed, I have been more like America's dad than ever before since no one wants to be around me for very long, and I make people uncomfortable."

Hanks then went on to offer some humor about his experience being tested and treated in Australia and fielded some audience questions from himself in a beret and a stetson before explaining that the show would have to tweak its formatting a bit as the cast worked from home.

"Now, is it gonna look a little bit different than what you're used to? Yes. Will it be weird to see sketches without big sets and costumes? Sure," he teased. "But will it make you laugh? Eh, it's SNL. It'll be some good stuff, maybe one or two stinkers. You know the drill." Indeed, that assessment was completely on-point. Hanks' duty basically ended at that -- he did pop back in for an introduction of the night's surprise musical guest, Coldplay's Chris Martin performing "Shelter From the Storm," and to say goodnight -- and the rest of the cast did the heavy lifting to create sketches built for the times ... and the limited resources available in their own abodes.

Highlights of the virtually produced episode included Pete Davidson's from-the-basement Drake music video spoof, Kate McKinnon's deliciously snarky and low-budget RBG workout routine sketch, an office Zoom meeting-gone-wrong that definitely borrowed from that viral video everyone saw, a send-off speech from Larry David as now-former presidential candidate and social distancing enthusiast Bernie Sanders, Chloe Fineman's superb Carole Baskin-on-a-bike impression, and a new segment of "Weekend Update" featuring Colin Jost, Michael Che, and a phoned-in interview with Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump.

Perhaps the most touching moment of the night came when current and former stars of Saturday Night Live alike sent in videos to pay tribute to the show's late music producer Hal Willner, who died of coronavirus complications earlier this month. Adam Sandler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Rachel Dratch, John Mulaney, and more SNL favorites all contributed with thoughts on Willner's legacy around Studio 8H.

Overall, SNL's return with its first "SNL At Home" episode was certainly a departure from the soundstage setup we've all grown accustomed to, but even without the live audience, costuming, and musical accompaniment for the sketches, the cast had plenty of material to work with and even seemed to thrive on those extremely meta moments of riffing on communication flubs in the era of social distancing. It was a solid effort to adapt to the new normal, and, frankly, it's just good to see this show back on air right about now.

Saturday Night Live airs on Saturdays at 11:30/10:30c on NBC.

​Tom Hanks, Saturday Night Live

Tom Hanks, Saturday Night Live