SNL 40: Finally, the Anniversary Special

We’ve finally come to the much anticipated and shrouded in secrecy Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special which aired Sunday night for 3.5 hours. As with any epic television event, it was a very long evening best viewed in clips posted online the next day as it offered many highlights and a few, shall we say, refrigerator/bathroom moments. The actual show moved smoothly enough between new content, assembled clips, and musical numbers. I’m being a little predictive here when I say that next week’s Oscars could learn a few things from this special, but overall, the show was overstuffed and wore on the patience of the even most dedicated viewers.

First off, special kudos to Darrell Hammond for so quickly reading through the cavalcade of celebrities and comics he had to in about 30 seconds. I was breathless just hearing it.

The special kicked off brilliantly with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake giving a rap retrospective of the series’ biggest moments in place of a traditional cold open skit. I was a little surprised to hear “Dick in a Box” at the 8pm hour, though. I wonder how many hundreds of complaints NBC received about that one.


The opening monologue featured Steve Martin giving a wry and witty speech but quickly devolved into a celebrity free-for-all. It was fun to see such a eclectic group of actors, musicians and comics interact with each other – even if it did feel something like a skit that SNL would invariably make up to parody a celebrity roast or a telethon.


I’m not going to comment on the broad array of clips offered during the various packages sprinkled through the night. Overall, they were nearly all-inclusive of the biggest moments in the series but, in my opinion, only gave the briefest taste of anything substantial. Perhaps the intent was to drive people to their mobile phones and download SNL‘s new all-inclusive app which allows people to scroll through 40 years of content. At any rate, the clips and overlaying musical queues were well assembled and ultimately entertaining. My personal favorite package was the montage of audition tapes and the evidence that so many of our favorite SNL personas were already baked in long before the comics joined the cast. It ain’t the writing, folks. It’s the talent.

Dan Ackroyd kicked off a revisiting of historic sketches with a return to his Bass-O-Matic skit. This is something I’d hoped they would do, although in my perfect world the current cast would re-enact these skits rather than having older cast member rehash their past glories. Quickly following this new skit was Will Ferrell in a brilliant return to his “Celebrity Jeopardy” triumph. Joined by Ferrell as Alex Trebek were Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery, Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett, Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds/Turd Ferguson, Taran Killam as Christoph Waltz, Jim Carrey as Matthew McConaughey, and Kenan Thomson as Bill Cosby. Whew. The large cast warranted big laughs here.



The next original skit was a revisit of the more recent “The Californians,” a parody of Soap Network shows filled with high drama and very specific Californian directions. Bradley Cooper, Lorraine Newman, Kerry Washington, (an apparently drunk) Taylor Swift, and Betty White contributed to the Californian-branded insanity. These recurring skits are hate-it-or-love-it sensations, but this new entry is most famous for the Bradley Cooper/Betty White lip-lock that she clearly enjoyed.


Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Jane Curtin returned to the Weekend Update desk to show everybody how it’s done. Curtin particularly laid a nice joke against FOX News. Emma Stone made a cameo appearance to revisit Gilda Radner’s classic Roseanne Roseannadanna persona. Remember how I said I wished current cast members had tried on older sketches? Yeah, I was wrong. Forget that. Edward Norton also made a brief appearance as a much more threatening version of Stefon quickly followed by Melissa McCarthy failing spectacularly as Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character. So, yeah, I was wrong. They should have stuck with Fey, Poehler, and Curtin reading the news.


A very funny Martin Short and Beyonce (naturally, brilliantly played by Maya Rudolph) introduced a retrospective of top SNL music-based characters including Garth and Kat (Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig – I’m still amazed they even try this), Marty Culp and Bobbi Mohan-Culp (Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer), Frank Sinatra (Joe Piscopo, amazingly growing into his impression), Derrick Stevens (Dana Carvey, playing the “Choppin’ Broccoli” song), Opera Man (Adam Sandler), the James Brown-esqe performer of “What’s Up with Dat?” (Kenan Thompson), Steve Martin quickly doing his King Tut routine, Bill Murray singing the love theme from “Jaws,” and Jim Belushi and Dan Ackroyd doing the best Blues Brothers routine they could minus the original inspiration of John Belushi. Again, this was another mouth full to recap, indicating that SNL really tried to shove as much as possible into the 3.5-hour special.


As I’d posted this weekend, one of my favorite things about SNL is when the actors can’t contain their laughter behind a sketch whether its just that funny or it isn’t working at all. Apparently, SNL loves that too and created a mashup of a digital short and clips of cast members losing their shit called “That’s When You Break.” Bizarrely enough, it broke midstream into a dedication to Lorne Michaels before returning to an ode to Fallon and Sanz, two cast members probably best known for breaking character and erupting into laughter.


Finally, the last new skit was a highly anticipated return to Aurora, Illinois, with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s “Wayne’s World.” This was clever enough, but this skit most of all felt like old people trying to be young again. I’m sure people found it funny enough, but to me, it felt a little tired and outdated.

The show appropriately enough played itself out with Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” a mantra that I’m sure the crew would love to adhere to their persona. Sadly, looking back at some of the greatest clips they offered, it’s clear they’re less “crazy” and more “careful” after all these years. That said, I’m still trying to figure out that raccoon skit from late last year…

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