On “SNL,” the Cold Open Explains the Coronavirus Vaccine

Get ready for a very complicated World War II metaphor

SNL COVID Vaccine sketch
The latest "SNL" opened with a sketch explaining the coronavirus vaccine.

If you’ve watched a lot of the current season of Saturday Night Live, you’ve probably noticed something: cold opens that last a very long time. Before the election, there was an understandable reason for this — the presence of high-profile guest stars — even if the sketches themselves tended to drag. Even after the election, the cold opens have gone pretty maximalist, with last week’s Michigan hearings cold open exceeding the 9-minute mark.

All of which is prelude to say that SNL‘s latest episode pulled off the impressive feat of having its cold open wrap up in under 6 minutes. The concept was simple: Dr. Anthony Fauci (Kate McKinnon) and Dr. Deborah Birx (Heidi Garner) answered questions posed by Wolf Blitzer (Beck Bennett). Occasionally, someone offscreen would throw their bra at Fauci. That was the sketch. No high concept, no guest stars.

This approach had its ups and downs. The sketch followed a pretty standard template — Bennett would ask a question, McKinnon would respond and Garner would add a self-deprecating quip — and it never felt all that ambitious. On the other hand, McKinnon, Garner and Bennett are also all very funny people, and their rapport was enjoyable to watch.

The highlight? Probably McKinnon-as-Fauci’s response to a question about the UK approving the COVID vaccine before the US did so. “We’re doing this vaccine World War II style,” McKinnon said. “We made England go in first to see what’s what, and then we’ll swoop in at the end and steal the spotlight. Tom Hanks will make 10 movies about it, and when it’s all over you can kiss any nurse you want.”

Was it a sketch for the ages? No — but it was funny, topical and didn’t wear out its welcome, all good qualities for a cold open to have.

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