“Saturday Night Live” bowed to the rising threat of COVID-19, opening its final show of 2021 with a pre-taped segment that featured Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, Steve Martin and Kenan Thompson welcoming host Paul Rudd into the “Five-Timers Club.”
Production of tonight’s “SNL” was thrown into disarray late this week when numerous cast members tested positive for COVID-19. Crew members became vocal about concerns of gathering as usual to produce the live broadcast at 30 Rock’s famed Studio 8H, prompting NBC to drop the live audience and use a limited crew for tonight’s installment.
The episode opened with a “previously recorded” slate as Tom Hanks bounded out on the familiar stage in a royal blue smoking jacket with an oversized “5” patch over the right breast. Rudd, the beloved comedy character actor, was set to log his fifth time at the helm of “SNL.”
“As you know I started the Five-Timers Club,” Hanks said. “Like you started COVID,” Fey responded.
Tom Hanks and Tina Fey welcome Paul Rudd to the Five-Timers Club! pic.twitter.com/tidzhofdtx
— Saturday Night Live – SNL (@nbcsnl) December 19, 2021
Hanks explained that the segment was recorded earlier Saturday and that the decision had been to scale down the show and go without an audience for safety’s sake.
“But I wasn’t going to fly across the country and not be on TV,” Hanks quipped before he invited Fey on stage. She joined in the same jacket with 5 emblem.
Martin, also wearing a blue-5 jacket, joined in the salute to Rudd via Zoom video. Martin Short, who is Martin’s co-star in Hulu’s quirky new hit “Only Murders in the Building,” butted into Martin’s shot briefly and noted that he has only hosted “SNL” three times.
Thompson, “SNL’s” longest-tenured player, came out alongside Rudd to present his jacket. “Congratulations on hosting the show four and a half times,” he said, before helping him put on the jacket which did feature a full-fledged 5. Hanks ribbed Rudd for his status as People magazine’s latest choice for “Sexiest Man Alive,” as it declared in November, or as Hanks put it “the Most Sexist Man of the Year.” Fey quipped, “Mr. sexy five-timer.”
Rudd said he was “extremely disappointed” by the turn of events. He explained that the show would be filled with segments taped earlier in the week and a few holiday “SNL” classic bits selected by him and others. Among them was 2006’s early viral video hit “Dick in a Box” featuring Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake.
Rudd also introduced a segment “that we finished at 5 a.m.,” a “Raging Bull” spoof featuring Pete Davidson. “An Evening With Pete” featured Davidson, Colin Jost and other “SNL” regulars in an elaborate recreation of moments from the 1980 Martin Scorsese-Robert De Niro masterpiece.
Another vintage segment that unspooled was a December 1990 sketch featuring Tom Hanks and then-“SNL” trouper Mike Myers playing Dean Martin and Carl Sagan, respectively, singing a duet in a faux TV holiday variety special with other bizarre cameos including consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
Toward the end of the show, Fey returned to the main stage, where she sat with Michael Che in director’s chairs to deliver a stripped-down edition of “Weekend Update.” The two delivered the string of one-liners about current events to an audience of three — Hanks, Rudd and Thompson — who sat before them surrounded by mostly empty folding chairs.
Among the stories tackled: the NFL’s decision to mandate boosters for players after more than two dozen tested positive for COVID. “Hopefully the [New York] Jets’ booster shots will come with a little bit of steroids,” Che quipped.
The unusual episode ended with Fey, Hanks, Che, Thompson and Rudd on stage in PPE masks waving goodbye to viewers — a closing scene that usually features a group shot of the large “SNL” ensemble out of character goofing off for the final bow. “It’s been a crazy week and even crazier day,” Rudd said. The five-some then made exaggerated pantomime efforts to give one another socially distanced hugs.
The camera lingered on a shot of the bare-bones house band, pared down to a sax player and keyboardist playing the show’s jazzy closing-credits theme.
(Pictured: Tina Fey and Tom Hanks)