SNL 40th anniversary highlights the good and the bad from the show's long run

NBC

By Matthew Barnauskas, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 16, 2015

With 40 years of “Saturday Night Live,” it’s a note of irony that its legacy was celebrated on a Sunday. It boasted a three-and-a-half-hour extravaganza to mark the feat with a guest list so long it rivals “Too Many Cooks” in length. If anything, the 40th Anniversary Special was indicative of “SNL” ’s legacy: it had some great moments, most of it was OK and some parts fell flat. At this point, “SNL” is an institution. There are moments where it won’t be strong, but it will always be there, trying its hardest to bring laughs.

“Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special”


A
TV Special
NBC


The special was heavily front-loaded trying to get as many big names out as quickly as possible. Naturally, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake continued their bromance to end all bromances by opening the show. The duo’s rap of iconic one-liners reflects just how much “SNL” has influenced pop culture.

Steve Martin’s opening monologue brought forth the divisive question, “Who makes the best guests on the show?” Is it comedians, actors, musicians, athletes or musicians named Paul? As the special played out with a favored bias toward comedians, they dominated the monologue and segue sequences.

The live sketches had several early highlights, with Celebrity Jeopardy growing more and more absurd as celebrity impersonations crowded the stage, including the iconic Burt Reynolds/Turd Ferguson by Norm MacDonald and Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery, who misreads “Who Reads?” as “Whore Ads.”

Weekend Update showcased the power of women on “SNL” with its dream lineup of Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Jane Curtin anchoring the update desk. Of all the jokes, Poehler’s comment on the special itself — “that won an Emmy in the first 10 minutes and then lost it somewhere in the middle” — was the most pointed in self-criticism. The special revered the establishment of “SNL,” but never denied that there are weaknesses in the show’s historic run.

Predictably so, there were weak moments in the lengthy show. The special fired its most powerful ammunition early and at times struggled to maintain its earlier rapid-fire pacing. Chris Rock wasted his heartfelt appreciation for Eddie Murphy as he came out to say, “I liked being here,” with no real punchline. Murphy’s presence on the show in the early ’80s kept SNL afloat and featured a bevy of hilarious characters, but there was no Gumby, Mr. Robinson or surprise resurrection of Buckwheat to be seen. The same goes for Chevy Chase, who was saved by the presence of Garrett Morris in the persona of a “News for the Hard of Hearing” translator.

The tribute montages appeared too densely near the middle, but several cornerstones of “SNL” ’s identity stood out. The behind-the-scenes audition tapes displayed the beginnings of classic sketches as cast members auditioned for the first time. They also gave an opportunity to show future icons that didn’t make the show like Stephen Colbert, Jim Carrey and a beardless Zach Galifianakis. New York’s presence in the show’s history was highlighted, bringing back the post-9/11 episode where Lorne Michaels asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” to which Giuliani earnestly replied, “Why start now?”

Whenever the special seemed to be running out of gas, there was always someone to kickstart it. Martin Short and Maya Rudolph (in character as Beyoncé) energetically usurped almost every musical character or skit from the show’s history. Later, Jerry Seinfeld had a fantastically awkward reunion with “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David. The comeback of Digital Shorts, led by Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler, brought a musical tribute to breaking character during a sketch (mainly at the expense of Fallon and Horatio Sanz).

The musical guests varied eclectically. Paul McCartney was an obvious choice, but the inclusion of Miley Cyrus and Kanye West raised eyebrows. Although the two may not be indicative of “SNL” ’s history, they both put together memorable performances with Cyrus's tribute to Paul Simon and West’s avant-garde talents (and some self-deprecation in the Wayne’s World sketch). But most fittingly, Paul Simon himself closed with “Still Crazy After All These Years.”

Yes, after all these years, “SNL” is still here. There will moments where it’s lacking, but in the end there will always be that special moment to remember the show by. So, “Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.”