Ironically enough, Sunday night was an especially important evening for Saturday Night Live. The seemingly timeless variety show celebrated its 40th anniversary with a star-studded—no, celebrity-super-saturated special that aired on the show’s home network NBC. The four-and-a-half hour special (counting the red carpet show before the event) gathered just about every living cast member of the legendary comedy program that crossed the stage of Rockefeller Center’s Studio 8H. The special even garnered the likes of Bradley Cooper, Betty White, and Jerry Seinfeld among a myriad of other stars. With as large a guest list as this special had, the celebration highlighted the unfathomable amount of love that SNL has retained from both celebrities and the public throughout its 40-year escapade on NBC.
Personally, I started watching the program about six or seven years ago, right in the heart of the 2008 election and just before the show’s 35th anniversary. The make-up of the show at that time was very different than it is now, with Maya Rudolph having just left and Amy Poehler, then pregnant, also gearing up to say goodbye.
Many felt—just as others feel now—that the cast then was incomparable to any of the casts that had come before it and that the show was inevitably on a downward path. It’s a sad characteristic of the show that a present cast is rarely greatly appreciated in its time, as now many look back to the cast of seven or eight years ago as being one of the better ensembles of the show’s run. Sunday’s anniversary special did a nice job of highlighting not only some of the great clips of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but featured many of the memorable moments of the show’s recent past.
One moment of such round-a-bout reflection was a collaboration, hosted by Martin Short and Maya Rudolf’s Beyonce, featuring some of SNL’s most famous musical sketches. With the likes of Will Ferrell and Ana Gayster’s Marty and Bobbie Culp, Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig’s Garth & Kat, and Bill Murray’s Nick Ocean, who sang a lyric ballad to the theme song from Jaws, this skit probably walks away as the funniest moment from Sunday’s special.
Another great throwback to both more modern skits as well as celebrated skits from the past was the digital short that featured Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler singing about “when you break.” The song showcased multitudes of scenes of cast members breaking into laughter during a skit, a notorious nuance of performing on the show. It even addressed some of the rumors on whether cast members break on purpose in failing skits and Lorne Michael’s response to cast members breaking. (I still don’t believe he takes it too kindly.)
Sunday’s celebration, however, reminded us of some of the less admirable traits of the show as well. Though at first they seemed appropriate, the non-stop barrage of clips from the show took away from what felt like valuable airtime. While a celebration of the past was an intrinsic element of the special, Sunday’s show felt it could have easily been cut down to about an hour and a half show and still done justice to the series’ 40th anniversary.
The worst feature of the whole anniversary show was celebrated, “epic” return of Eddie Murphy. To be honest, it seemed like everyone had forgotten that Murphy existed. I personally haven’t seen him in anything since he was in Tower Heist back in 2011 and I do not think much of what he has done in the past decade (aside from voicing Donkey in Shrek). Sure, Murphy appeared on the show from 1980 until 1984 and had several recognizable, funny characters he brought to SNL, but what kind of “historical return” consists of a 45 second to minute long spiel on how great the show is and, “let’s have more show.” Though I am not a big fan of Murphy’s, nor did I expect much of his return, this came across more as just a poor attempt at raising hype about the special.
Overall, the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary highlighted what it seems people love most about the show: its lovable band of recognizable, hysterical impressions and characters and the countless opportunities for celebrity guest appearances in each episode. A large portion of the show was dedicated to celebrating the work the series’ producer Lorne Michaels has put into his creation and Michaels really does deserve the recognition given to him. Saturday Night Live has made a brand for itself that few, if no other franchises could ever imagine having and Sunday’s special did well to fully acknowledge its legacy.
Featured Image Courtesy of NBC