Thursday, April 22, 2021

in-focus

'Saturday Night Live' dreams up a Fauci-hosted game show where contestants vie for the vaccine


When "Saturday Night Live" announced it would return in 2021 with five new episodes in a row, it was difficult not to wonder if the show would struggle to find material. For the past four years, after all, nearly every episode opened with a sketch centered on Donald Trump and included a plethora of celebrity guests (including the ever-present Alec Baldwin, who portrayed the former president).

666

View

How would it pivot?

Not, it seems, by taking aim at the current administration. Despite debuting Alex Moffat as the newest in a long string of Joe Biden impersonators in December 2020, he's spent 2021 primarily portraying other characters. (The politics of "SNL" are no secret, but this omission is pretty glaring.)

Instead, "SNL" has used the cold open - often a good indicator of the show's priorities - to get creative again, each week mining new subjects for comedy, from Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R.-Ga., to Britney Spears to the Super Bowl.

(Well, mostly new subjects. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, keeps coming up. Over and over and over.)

On Saturday, the cold open assumed one of the "SNL's" more reliable formats: the fake talk show. In this instance, Dr. Anthony Fauci (Kate McKinnon) hosts a show titled "So You Think You Can Get the Vaccine," in which contestants present arguments for why they should get the coronavirus vaccine. A trio of Democratic governors - California's Gavin Newsom (Moffat), New York's Andrew Cuomo (Pete Davidson) and Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer (Cecily Strong) - serve as the judges.

"Getting the vaccine shouldn't be a competition, but Americans will only want to get it if someone else can't," says McKinnon's Fauci, who refers to himself as "America's voice of reason and celebrity hall pass, for some reason."

Of course, not everyone can win a vaccine. Those who don't, "SNL's" Fauci says, will go home with a Pfizer Visor, "a visor with the world Pfizer on it."

The architecture of the sketch allows for a series of brief appearances from wacky characters.

There's the Michigan-based Only Fans IT worker Jane F. (Heidi Gardner), who has "a really bad attitude," is "allergic to dust," has herpes and is immediately mortified that she announced all this on television after learning those don't count as pre-existing conditions. The pretend granny (Ego Nwodim) who wants the vaccine so she can spend some quality time with the recently single man she's been talking up for a decade. The pregnant woman (Melissa Villaseñor) who wants the vaccine, only to be told by the governors that they don't know if it's safe for her. And the fake smoker (Bowen Yang) who acts like he loves cigarettes because New Jersey gives early priority to smokers.

Oh, yeah, and Ted Cruz (Aidy Bryant), yet again, making jokes about his arms being tired after flying in from Cancún. "Can you really blame a brother for wanting to get some sun?" Bryant's Cruz asks, before screaming "FREEEEEEDOM!" and dropping the mic.

The winner of "So You Think You Can Get the Vaccine" is Seymour Foreman (Mikey Day), an 85-year-old retired Army doctor who is "now just the world's proudest granddad." He's not likely to actually receive the vaccine, though, as he only uses his computer for Spider Solitaire and doesn't know how to book an appointment.

Anyway, as luck would have it, "SNL's" Fauci announces, a nearby CVS has lost power and its store of vaccines are going bad - so it's first come, first served.

Aside from the tired Cruz bit, Saturday's cold open was arguably the strongest of 2021. If nothing else, it offered an inventive skewering of a real issue Americans are currently facing - particularly the joke about Day's Foreman not knowing how to book an appointment and needing to ask someone in the younger generation for help. (He wonders if the mailman might help, before Davidson's Cuomo asks if the man has "three straight days to help you click 'refresh.'" If he doesn't, Cuomo says, and "you do feel sick, make sure your leave the nursing home and get to the hospital. Wink.")

After four years fixating on the Trump administration, which pleased the former president's critics but didn't make for interesting comedy, it's refreshing to see the show's writers getting creative - even if there is a curious lack of Biden jokes.

Published : March 01, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Travis M. Andrews