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‘SNL’ Recap: No Audience, No Problem For Paul Rudd, Tina Fey, and Tom Hanks

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‘SNL’ Recap: No Audience, No Problem For Paul Rudd, Tina Fey, and Tom Hanks

Happy Omicron to all who celebrate! Too soon?

The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic may have shut down live entertainment throughout much of New York City again this weekend, but inside 30 Rock, Lorne Michaels kept to his ritualistic mantra of not putting on a new episode of Saturday Night Live because it’s good or ready, but because it’s 11:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. At least it appeared as though cooler heads would prevail around Studio 8H this week compared to earlier this spring, when SNL and Michaels flouted city regulations by having live studio audiences — back then bringing in hospital workers and paying them to reclassify them as employees and not audience members. This time around, as rumors swirled about which cast members may or may not have tested positive for COVID, and Cecily Strong wisely wanted none of that since she’s supposed to star this coming Tuesday in an Off-Broadway revival of Lily Tomlin’s The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. This time, Michaels called off any live audience, cancelled the musical performances by Charli XCX, and allowed most of the cast to stay home.

What remained was an episode of pre-recorded shorts finished earlier in the week, plus repeats of old sketches (some more classic than others), and an opening with Tom Hanks and Tina Fey to welcome Paul Rudd into the Five Timers Club. Sort of. If you didn’t know that NBC already plans to air an SNL Best of Christmas two-hour primetime special on Tuesday, you might’ve thought this could do the trick. Might you be right?

What’s The Deal For The SNL Cold Open For Last Night (12/18/21)?

They really opened cold, no applause since no audience, but the introduction of Tom Hanks, whose name and presence only immediately reminded us of how Hanks caught COVID-19 in Australia in March 2020 and that’s what made us take the pandemic seriously in the first place, and how Hanks introduced the first weird SNL At Home episode, and just really reinforced the whole pandemic thing. Wearing his Five-Timers Club robe, he said he wasn’t about to fly 3,000 miles from California for this gig and not do the gig, and said “Thank you surviving crew members.” Ugh. Bleak. Next we saw Tina Fey, also in Five-Timers robe, who noted this wasn’t the smallest audience to which she had performed, “because I have done improv in a Macy’s.” Steve Martin sent in a pre-recorded gag tribute for Rudd, complete with Martin Short cameo. Kenan Thompson demonstrated not all the cast went home, presenting Rudd with his own robe. And then Rudd introduced the first pre-recorded sketch of the evening.

How Did The SNL Guest Host Paul Rudd Do?

Rudd did manage to film three sketches between Thursday night and Saturday morning, so it wasn’t a total loss on the new comedy content front.

The first pitched Rudd as director Casey HomeGoods, who wants Evelyn and Eileen to know he got the job for this HomeGoods commercial “on merit.” The spot has the two moms (played by Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon) telling us what they really want for Christmas, since usually mothers tell their children not to bother with gifts. What do they really want? “Grandchildren.” This hits too close to home? Just everybody? Although they do make a great case, or let Casey make the case for them.

Then Rudd let us know he finished shooting “An Evening With Pete” at 5 a.m. Saturday.

This short starts as an homage to Raging Bull, with Davidson as himself in the year 2054, reduced to a nightclub act regurgitating his SNL hits, sometimes only after the audience insists. SPOILER ALERTS: In 2054, Pete will have removed all of his tattoos, he somehow has a Viola Davis lifetime achievement Academy Award in his possession (congrats Viola!), and his buddy Machine Gun Kelly will be dead and cremated (sorry for your impending loss!). Rudd portrays Pete’s former writing partner, who at first is spurned from the joint, but then, thanks to joints, gets back in Pete’s good graces and reveals that he’s the one who conceived of making Pete an unlikely sex symbol!

Later in the show, Rudd introduced a sketch from one of his earlier hosting gigs on SNL, in which he portrayed Dan Charles, “Adult One Direction Fan.” Rudd also filled us in on how, as a much younger comedy fan, he memorized Steve Martin’s “A Holiday Wish” sketch and recited it in school.

How Relevant Was The Musical Guest Charli XCX?

Too relevant, it turned out.

She did manage to appear in the episode and sing, even, as a bird named T.J. Rocks in a short featuring Kyle Mooney as a kid wanting to buy “The Christmas Socks.” Alas, it will not rock your socks off.

Which Sketch Will We Be Sharing: “Global Warming Christmas Special” and “Now That’s What I Call Christmas”

Look. If it were up to me, we’d all still be talking about the 1990 “Global Warming Christmas Special” sketch, but NBC and SNL have yet to share this somehow even more timely though quite outdated classic from 31 years ago. It’s from when Hanks himself sorta kinda launched the concept of the 5-Timers-Club on Dec. 8, 1990. Anyhow. In one sketch, we’ve got Mike Myers as Carl Sagan warning us about greenhouse gasses and the need to curb our fossil fuel dependency, all while presiding over a Christmas TV special. Hanks played Dean Martin. Victoria Jackson was Sally Struthers back when everyone was mocking her for crying in a charity ad. We’ve got the late Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman as Crystal Gayle and Isaac Asimov dueting on “Silver Bells,” only to have Sagan throw red paint on her because “fur is murder.” Dana Carvey swings by as Paul McCartney, and for a brief moment, you get to see Chris Farley and Julia Sweeney dancing as Dom DeLuise and Petula Clark, respectively.

OK. If we do ever get that sketch on shareable video, we’re all sharing it, yes? And here it is!

If you want a more current under-the-radar celebrity impersonation medley, please enjoy this ditty from Jimmy Fallon and the 2013-2014 cast, which means we get to see John Milhiser as Billie Joe Armstrong and Noël Wells as Zooey Deschanel. Plus Fallon as a bunch of celebs, including the late Alan Rickman, Michael Buble, Harry Styles and Pitbull. Jay Pharoah as the late DMX. Kate McKinnon as Shakira and Lorde. Kyle Mooney as Axl Rose. Bobby Moynihan as Andrea Bocelli. Cecily Strong as Alanis Morissette. Now that’s what they called Christmas in 2013.

Who Stopped By Weekend Update?

Tina Fey did! Reminding us what it’s like when someone brings energy or a point of view to the Update desk, as well as chemistry with Michael Che (only my SNL-heads may remember they previously co-starred in an American Express ad several years back and proved they could riff off one another quite well). Anyhow. They played to an unseen audience of crew, with only Hanks, Rudd and Thompson sitting in the actual audience chairs. At one point, Che tagged a joke about a judge getting fired for saying the N-word by asking: “Why are Kenan and me the only cast members here?”

What Sketch Filled The “10-to-1” Slot?

Instead of a final live weird wackadoodle sketch, the final slot at 12:54 a.m. went to Tina Fey telling a story about how in the 2005 Christmas episode, hosted by Jack Black, the SNL crew whipped up an adorable Santa outfit for Fey’s infant daughter out of a Juicy Couture outfit, all while this TV Funhouse animated short was playing. Play it again, Lorne! It’s “Christmastime for the Jews,” presented by Robert Smigel featuring singing by Darlene Love.

Who Was The Episode’s MVP?

Anyone who stayed safe and hasn’t gotten sick. That means you, too. Stay safe everybody, and let’s meet back here in 2022 for the next SNL episode!

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.

Watch Season 47, Episode 9 of Saturday Night Live on Peacock

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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