by Julian Spivey
The “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary three and a half hour primetime special that aired on Sunday, Feb. 15 was pretty close to a perfect night of television in celebration of four decades of one of the most iconic and important television series of all-time.
A who’s who of comedy legends from the show’s history – former cast members and hosts – came back to the famed Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center to toast the show and its creator Lorne Michaels with many memorable moments and performances. There were truly so many great moments from the special Sunday night that a review of the entire special would take nearly as long to write and read as the three and a half hour special did to watch, so let’s keep it limited to the very best moments of the night – there was still a ton of those to choose from.
The show kicked off brilliantly with former cast member and current ‘Tonight Show’ host Jimmy Fallon joined on stage by good buddy and five-timer club member Justin Timberlake who did a little rap about some of the most memorable characters and sketches in the history of “Saturday Night Live.” The rap was interrupted hilariously by Rachel Dratch’s iconic Debbie Downer.
The monologue portion of a typical ‘SNL’ episode was filled by probably the longest standing guest host of the series Steve Martin who was hijacked by numerous celebrities and former hosts along the way such as Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Miley Cyrus, Peyton Manning, Billy Crystal and more who all played as if they were unhappy with Martin being chosen for the honor.
Periodically throughout the night classic clips of the show were aired with live introductions from a talented group of celebrities like Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson highlighting the show’s humor about New York and politics, etc. It was nice to see these classic clips again after many years.
The first true highlight of the 40th anniversary special came in the form of the return of Celebrity Jeopardy with legendary cast member Will Ferrell reprising his role as host Alex Trebek. Darrell Hammond reprised his legendary impression of Sean Connery with Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber and Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett as the other two contestants … but there would be more surprises. Taran Killam would show up as Christoph Waltz, which was truly unnecessary. But, the real highlight was seeing Norm Macdonald return as Burt Reynolds or AKA Turd Ferguson. Celebrity Jeopardy was at its absolute best early on in the late ‘90s when Hammond and Macdonald were both in the bits as Connery and Reynolds respectively. Jim Carrey also returned as his hilarious Matthew McConaughey that he debuted when he hosted in late 2014. This sketch will no doubt be viewed countless times online throughout the upcoming week.
The 40th anniversary special’s tribute to Weekend Update probably didn’t last near as long as it should have, but featured a great segment with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin – the three ladies of Update – an interesting choice as the fake news segment has been predominately male dominated over the show’s run. But, the trio of ladies provided stellar laughs, especially Curtin’s knock on Fox News being an all blonde, fake news network. The shortened Update segment featured celebrities reenacting their favorite Updates characters from over the years with Emma Stone doing Gilda Radner’s iconic Roseanne Rosennadanna, Edward Norton doing Bill Hader’s Stefon with Hader joining in and then Melissa McCarthy doing Chris Farley’s memorable Matt Foley (even though that was never an Update character).
One of my absolute favorite segments from the special was the tribute to all of the classic musical moments in the show’s history. This segment featured Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer reprising their married music teacher couple The Culps performing modern hits like “Uptown Funk,” “Turn Down For What” and “All About That Bass,” Dana Carvey doing a portion of his “Choppin’ Broccoli,” Steve Martin doing a little bit of “King Tut,” Adam Sandler bringing back Opera Man, Bill Murray as Nick the Lounge Singer doing a Theme to the movie “Jaws” and Dan Aykroyd joined by John Belushi’s younger brother Jim doing the Blues Brothers. The segment was hosted by Martin Short and Maya Rudolph as her fantastic Beyonce.
Toward the end of the show Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprised Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar for a modern take on “Wayne’s World” much to the delight of the packed crowd of celebrities. It was certainly one of the numerous highlights of the night, especially when the duo took their multiple shots at Kanye West in the audience.
One of the things that truly kept ‘SNL’ popular in the mainstream in the ‘00s was Andy Samberg’s digital shorts and to no one’s surprise Samberg had one set for the 40th anniversary special – but there was a surprise in who his guest was … Adam Sandler. The two did a very hilarious song “That’s When You Break” – maybe the single funniest moment of the entire special – about ‘SNL’ cast members breaking character during live sketches. The funniest lines came when the duo mocked the repeated character breaks of Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz over the years.
There were multiple music performances throughout the special that weren’t all that necessary to the program and didn’t really have any history within the show (at least the first three), but I understood wanting to have them a part of the special to draw a larger audience and to keep the pace from dragging. Paul McCartney performed a solid performance of his classic “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Miley Cyrus did a disappointing cover of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and Kanye West debuted a new song featuring Sia. The best performance was the very last thing to appear on the special before the goodnights with Paul Simon, a longtime contributor of the show and friend of Lorne Michaels, performing his “Still Crazy After All These Years.” It was a terrific performance from the veteran songman and truly the right message to send after 40 hilarious and amazing years of ‘SNL’ making America laugh. Here’s to hopefully 40 more.