‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The 40th Anniversary Special

By February 16, 2015

It’s been 40 years since “Saturday Night Live” debuted in 1975 and while the actual anniversary won’t be until this fall, NBC decided to celebrate early with a star-studded anniversary special that ran no less than three and a half hours. This was unlike any previous celebration of the late night sketch show as it combined the trademark live sketch comedy from Studio 8H with a collection of nostalgic montages playing classic clips from the show’s long, iconic history. And as a huge fan of “Saturday Night Live,” this was even better than I hoped it would be. So let’s get down to the goodies.

The Chronicles of SNL with Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake – This was the perfect way to open up the show in order to get young viewers on board with this look back at a show that’s been on longer than some of their parents have been alive. Fallon and Timberlake (seriously, there’s nothing this guy can’t do) are a great duo, and this “Lazy Sunday” tribute to the favorite sketches of “SNL” was lively and fun. if only the musical numbers at The Academy Awards could be this lively.

Steve Martin and Hosts Monologue – Steve Martin was the makeshift host, and it’s only appropriate since he’s hosted the show more than anyone (though he’s tied with Alec Baldwin). By comedy standards, this was a traditional opening monologue, but with a crazy cavalcade of cameos from the likes of comedy masters like Billy Crystal and Chris Rock to musical acts such as Miley Cyrus and Paul McCartney. And this was just the beginning of the show. We hadn’t seen anything yet.

The Super Bass-O-Matic – Dan Aykroyd remakes one of the most well-known sketches from his days as part of the original cast of “Saturday Night Live.” Sure, Aykroyd has aged considerably since then, but he hasn’t lost any of his comedic timing, and it’s great that they got Laraine Newman back to sample that bass smoothie, which still looks gross after all these years. This was just a taste of the kind of live sketches we were going to get all night.

Celebrity Jeopardy – This was when we realized what kind of show we had in store. This new installment of Celebrity Jeopardy brought back Will Ferrell and Alek Trebek and Darrell Hammond as his nemesis Sean Connery. It’s like they never left. But it was made all the more special by bringing generations together by having Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett, Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds (aka Turd Ferguson), Taran Killam as Christoph Waltz, Jim Carrey as Matthew McConaughey and Kenan Thompson as, well, you’ll just have to find out.

Audition Tapes – This wasn’t a sketch, but it was one of my favorite segments of the night. This is a collection of clips from the audition tapes of those who ended up becoming cast members on “Saturday Night Live.” There are also snippets of the rough reel put together for the original cast when they were trying out parts of the show before it ever went in front of cameras. It’s amazing to see just how much of what these cast members did during their auditions eventually ended up in front of the camera. And then we also get to see the audition tapes of some of comedy greats who didn’t get hired, such as Kevin Hart, Stephen Colbert, Jim Carrey and more.

The Californians with Everyone – It’s a pretty bold move to have one of the more divisive recurring sketches as a staple live piece in the 40th anniversary show, but this sketch also allows for a large amount of cameos, and it did not disappoint. And what’s interesting is this is one of the more recent recurring sketches, but the main players (Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader) are no longer on the show. Make sure you take notice of the first guest star, because that’s Laraine Newman, one of the original cast members from 1975. Otherwise it won’t be hard to miss other guests like Bradley Cooper, Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift and Betty White; two of them make out, and that’s not a joke. Plus, the ending is a nice throwback touch.

Weekend Update with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler & Jane Curtin – It was pretty great that they let the female Weekend Update anchors take charge for this segment. However, it was a little annoying that Cecily Strong didn’t get to join in the fun, and she was also ignored in the quick montage of every anchor who ever sat behind the desk. But it’s hard to get too mad at the show when they did this awesome trio of tributes featuring Emma Stone doing Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, Edward Norton as Stefon (with Bill Hader in tow) and Melissa McCarthy as Chris Farley’s iconic motivational speaker Matt Foley.

Martin Short, Beyonce, The Blues Brothers, The Culps and more SNL Music Icons – Easily one of the most enjoyable segments of the night, Martin Short and Beyonce (Maya Rudolph) introduced some of the most revered musically inclined sketch characters from 40 seasons of “Saturday Night Live.” From Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig as Garth & Kat to Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer as The Culps, to Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi as The Blues Brothers. There was even Joe Piscopo as Frank Sinatra, Bill Murray as lounge singer Nick Ocean and yes, Adam Sandler as Opera Man. It was moment after moment of huge laughs and shocking cameos.

ESPN Classic – This quick little sketch was a fun way to end the montage of sports sketches and various athletes who have stopped by “SNL” over the years. Nothing like Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte commenting on sports with weird sponsors on had.

Eddie Murphy – Everyone was excited to hear that Eddie Murphy was finally returning to “Saturday Night Live,” but his special appearance turned out to be a little disappointing. Chris Rock gave him a wonderful introduction, complete with giving him credit for saving “SNL” when the show was on the verge of being canceled. And when the time came for Eddie Murphy to take the stage, he said thanks, and then tossed it to commercial. And that was it. It would be nice if he would come back and host, but this is probably as good as it’s going to get. At least he finally happily acknowledged his time spent in Studio 8H.

Jerry Seinfeld Q&A – Taking one of the staple monologue formulas of the question and answer period, Seinfeld took questions from Hollywood’s elite about “Saturday Night Live” including Michael Douglas, John Goodman, James Franco, Ellen Cleghorne and Larry David, marking a spectacular little “Seinfeld” reunion. Hey when are we going to get a real “Seinfeld” reunion anyway?

In Memoriam – There was a break from the laughs just to pay tribute to the people that “SNL” has lost over the years, though it was limited to cast members and crew members, not hosts of the show. And in true “SNL” fashion, they just couldn’t do something this sad without putting some funny in there, and it was the perfect way to end this touching reel.

An SNL 40 Digital Short – That’s When You Break – For anyone who thought Adam Sandler was only popping up as Opera Man, this was a great surprise. Sandler teamed up with That’s My Boy co-star Andy Samberg, the man who made SNL Digital Shorts a staple, for a music video to call attention to the audience favorite happening of breaking character during a sketch. It’s funny but also interesting, because it lets the audience in on a trick that they might not have been aware of. It’s easy to get laughs by losing composure, but it happens naturally too. Obviously the best part is the clips of cast members breaking character, especially poking fun at just how many times Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz were the culprits.

Wayne’s World – It was smart to save the return of Wayne’s World for the end as probably the two most recognizable and successful characters on “Saturday Night Live” and on the big screen (rivaled only by The Blues Brothers). But this was very different in that this Wayne’s World was keenly aware it was in front of the “Saturday Night Live” audience, even referencing famous people in the crowd like Kanye West (several times) and impersonating Lorne Michaels perfectly. This was the most meta sketch of the night, but that’s perfect, mostly due to the fact that Wayne’s World became famous for that kind of humor, especially in their movies.

That’s it for the live sketches, but if you want to watch some more of the clip montages and tributes to staple “SNL” sketches, you can go to Hulu and watch everything that aired last night for the anniversary special.

What Was Missing? – Pretty much everyone got their time in the spotlight during this three and a half hour special, but there was still some missing pieces. For example, some cast members who really didn’t get a chance to shine, but had a pretty strong presence on the series include Albert Brooks, Jim Breuer, Chris Parnell (he appeared in the new Digital Short though), Al Franken, Victoria Jackson, Rob Schneider, Julia Sweeney, Cheri Oteri, Colin Quinn, Chris Kattan, Horatio Sanz as well as current cast members Bobby Moynihan, Aidy Bryant and Jay Pharoah. There was also no sign of Dennis Miller, but he seems to have distanced himself from the show since leaving. There was a nice, quick shoutout to Tracy Morgan though, since he’s still recovering from his accident last year.

What Was Weird? – In the revival of some of our favorite sketches, the characters were made self-aware that they were creations on “SNL.” For example, David Spade’s airline flight attendant (“Buh-bye”) was keenly aware that he was on a live sketch show and the SNL Digital Short specifically addressed cast members of the program. But the weirdest instance of existential awareness seemed to happen during Wayne’s World, where the characters weren’t completely Wayne and Garth as much as Mike Myers and Dana Carvey pretending to be Wayne and Garth. And I know that sounds weird, because that’s what Myers and Carvey have always done. But Wayne and Garth are characters who were real in the world of the sketch, so it was odd to see them address the existence of “Saturday Night Live” and really break the fourth wall.

The Final Word– Honestly, pretty much everything was perfect. I’m so glad this was a live show as opposed to a pre-recorded tribute. There were plenty of technical flubs and mess-ups throughout the night, but that’s always been what has made “SNL” special, so it was nice to see those kind of mistakes come through in the live anniversary special. Even the “In Memoriam” segment brought comedy in a moment of sad reflection in a way that only the irreverent “SNL” can, complete with a breathtaking moment of tension when Murray made a joke about a recent death that happened too close to make the cut (it ended up being a joke).

As someone who’s never all that thrilled with the musical acts, unless they’re a big part of the comedy, we could have done without one of the breaks to add a little more comedy, but that’s just a personal preference. All of the musical acts popped up elsewhere throughout the show, so it only made sense to let them perform as if this was just another episode of “SNL,” so that’s fine.

But otherwise, as someone who became fascinated by “SNL” as a young boy and has followed it religiously for years, this was everything I ever could have hoped for from a high profile anniversary show. The cameos were never-ending and mind-blowing. It’s incredible that both Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy came back to the show, two talents who launched their career in Studio 8H, but haven’t come back to the show in a major way since their departure. This was just reaffirmation that “Saturday Night Live” is an American institution that changed television and comedy as we know it, and continues to introduce the world to promising comic talent.

Here’s to 40 more years of “Saturday Night Live” on the way!

We’ll be back to our regular “Saturday Night Live” reviews after Dakota Johnson hosts on February 28th.

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Ethan Anderton
Some of his favorite films include Ghostbusters, The Empire Strikes Back and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while his favorite TV series include LOST, Mad Men, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Arrested Development and Saturday Night Live.