For ‘SNL’, A Mixed Bag Of Emotions At 40th Anniversary Special

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

About Chris Fuller 166 Articles
Chris is the Arts & Review Editor for The Heights. He is obsessed with 'Star Wars,' The Bee Gees, and funk in general. He tries to live life to its fuller. (Get it?)

2 Comments

  1. To celebrate 40 years on the air, Saturday Night Live hit us with a live three and a half hour Sunday special that featured decades of cast members along with select hosts and musical guests. This was an incredible and unprecedented thing to air on television. One of the funnies skits was the audition tapes. As one of the show’s numerous video packages (others dealt with politics, New York, sports stars, etc), the auditions reel showed us how every performer, no matter the year, had to travel through the same screen test wormhole. Even Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Andy Kaufman, and a few others showed up as stars who didn’t make the cut. While most of the tv special was spectacular, it was marred a little by the likeliness of Miley Cyrus and Kanye west. Having Miley even perform on the special was a stretch to begin with. But then to have her perform a famous Paul Simon song when Simon himself was there in attendance almost felt like a sketch in its own right. Nothing against Kanye per se, but there’s a time and a place for artsy, introspective skinner box-style song medleys and SNL 40 wasn’t one of them. His chain of “Jesus Walks,” “Only One,” and “Wolves” wound up giving more screen time to Sia and Vic Mensa than actual SNL performers. at least he did not abruptly interrupt someone on star this time. In summary the snl 40 special was an amazing and unprecedented show. Here’s to 40 more years!

  2. Watching the Saturday Night Live special, it was amazing to see how many A list stars and comedians got their start with Saturday Night Live. Although the current cast has gotten criticized for not matching up to past Saturday Night Live casts, I feel that with time
    they will become SNL greats themselves. I also enjoyed seeing how many
    celebrities were multi-talented, like Peyton Manning. On top of his great football
    accomplishments, he also accomplished a great deal in hosting SNL and being a great comedian.

    Perhaps one of my favorite skits was between Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. They did an amazing job together. Their on camera charisma is amazing separately, and together it’s
    even better. When they are together it is like they aren’t working, they are
    just having a fun time joking around. It is clear that Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake
    have tons of fun together on stage, and that fun comes through the screen and
    right into the living room of millions of Americans.

    Another wonderful aspect of the SNL special and my favorite part of the show is weekend update. The clips to back in the day when Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted weekend update were a joy to watch. When Seth Meyers took over weekend update, he did a great job as well. Who didn’t love watching Seth joke around and poke fun at everything? And he had so
    many great characters come on to the show with him, like Stefon and Drunk
    Uncle. SNL 40 was a great way to live so many great moments over the years.

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