Saturday Night Live's first-ever remotely shot show was "in all honesty ... a weaker-than-average episode of a show whose average episodes aren’t what they used to be," says Judy Berman. "Yet, as I watched what the cast and writers managed to put together, prepared to be disappointed by SNL as usual, an unexpected sense of gratitude blindsided me. It wasn’t about the sketches themselves, though there were highlights." Berman adds: "The lows were predictable: too many stale Tiger King jokes. Too many sketches that had Gen Z influencer types blithely vlogging, doing DIY makeup tutorials and live-streaming video games in the time of coronavirus. An awkward split-screen edition of 'Weekend Update,' apparently recorded on Zoom with an audience listening in to provide laughter, was essentially a digest of the past month on Twitter....Still, what I appreciated was the effort to make comedy out of the unprecedented situation we’re all living through. As with late-night hosts who are cobbling shows together from their living rooms and musicians doing sets on Instagram Live, SNL at Home was, at least, an attempt to make us forget our troubles for 90 minutes on a Saturday night. More importantly, if newspapers (and weekly magazines, not to mention digital media) are a rough draft of history, then so are all of these timely forms of entertainment. Decades from now, when future generations want to know about the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll have a bottomless trove of harrowing news reports to consult. But they will also be able to dig up a special episode of NBC’s stalwart sketch show and understand the more mundane daily realities of being alive in America during the spring of 2020: the boredom, stir-craziness and sexual frustration. The anxiety. The ambient grief. And—lest we ever forget—the Zoom."
SNL at Home was a cultural document of our times, offering surreal comforts: "Watching cast members such as Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and Pete Davidson rattle around in their homes may have had a touch of public-access strangeness to it, but each of their performances had a pent-up quality that many a home viewer could probably relate to," says David Sims. "They’re performers, after all, and they have nobody to perform for. As McKinnon bounced around the room doing home workouts as part of her Ruth Bader Ginsburg impression, her exuberance at finally unleashing some energy felt contagious."
All things considered, it was pretty good. And all things not considered, it was pretty good, too: "In addition to the variable quality of the sketches, the show was marked by different degrees of technical polish, picture quality, sound quality and costuming," says Robert Lloyd. "(Hanks was in a suit at the top — 'this is the first time I’ve worn anything but sweatpants since March 11' — and more casual at the close.) Glimpses into the living spaces of cast members, in the opening credits and throughout the show, revealed that some live like adults and some like young adults, and also that Tom Hanks has a nice kitchen, a collection of old typewriters and a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. What sets Saturday Night Live apart from talk-show late night, of course, is that it’s an ensemble comedy, most of the time, which would seem tricky to pull off when its cast members, like the rest of us, are hunkered down in their individual bunkers. But the fact that the whole wide world has discovered ways to be together when forced apart provides both form and content for a new kind of group comedy."
Saturday Night Live was able to conquer the unique challenge of making comedy during a pandemic: "SNL won’t be the last show to figure out a socially distanced version of itself, though its schedule makes it one of the first," says Alison Herman. "It’s unclear if SNL plans to produce more At Home episodes in future; next week, at least, will be a rerun of John Mulaney’s dispatch from simpler times. While often rough or inconsistent, SNL at Home proved itself a workable substitute, especially for a show where roughness and inconsistency are partly the point. But it’s also a perfect time capsule: far enough into the new normal to accept things can’t go on as they were, but not far enough to know how things will become."
SNL At Home was scattershot but welcome: "A mid-show graphic announced that there’d be no new show next week (we get a rerun of this season’s John Mulaney/David Byrne episode instead), making this admittedly catch-what-you-can episode feel, again, more like a little gift than a bold or innovative adaptation to this new, unnerving normal," says Dennis Perkins. "And that’s fine, honestly. If Lorne (Michaels) and the gang had been spending these off weeks energetically retooling Saturday Night Live for the long haul, the splash would have been chilling for a viewership hard-put to find any normalcy. Instead, we got one proper sketch, really, a videoconferencing office meeting that brought back Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant’s terror-stricken receptionists to ineptly operate 'the Zoom' and break down in weeping, oversharing surrender when they can’t."