The Very Special ‘SNL 40’ Special

Last night’s “Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special” wasn’t the best of times. It wasn’t the worst of times, either–though, at various points during the three-and-a-half-hour show, it felt like the longest of times. For a program already teeming with forty years of talent, an awful lot of celebrity guests were booked; Steve Martin’s opening monologue was so jam-packed with star walk-ons (from Tom Hanks to Melissa McCarthy) that it resembled a “We Are the World” broadcast. But for one evening at least, long-simmering feuds and resentments were laid aside and – despite a few missteps – a fun time was had by all. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Sisterhood Is Powerful “Weekend Update”
Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Jane Curtin took over anchor duties, and they did not disappoint. Curtin had the best line: “I used to be the only pretty blonde reading fake news. Now there’s a whole station devoted to that.” And cue Fox News logo. Less successful was Emma Stone’s reprisal of the late Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna; imitation isn’t always the highest form of flattery. Also a little too close to the bone: McCarthy as the late Chris Farley’s motivational speaker Matt Foley. Yikes.

That Endless “Californians” skit
Maybe it was a meta-commentary on all those SNL skits that go on at least five minutes too long but the recurring soap opera parody “The Californians” – despite cameos from Laraine Newman, Bradley Cooper, Kerry Washington, and Taylor Swift – dragged on like there was no tomorrow. Only Betty White saved the day when she made out with a platinum-bewigged Cooper; where’s the reality show in which the ninety-three-year-old actress just canoodles with cute A-listers all day? Sidenote: It wasn’t until the end of Kanye’s set with Sia that I realized the spot wasn’t another meta-commentary – this time on the awkward musical number.

Beyoncé Was King
Actually, Maya Rudolph as a Mae West-style Bey, flanked by a caterwauling Martin Short felled by her wind machine, were king and queen (respectively). This ode to SNL’s musical numbers was the only skit that could have gone longer: With Operaman (Adam Sandler), Marty and Bobbi Culp (Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer), Derek Stevens (Dana Carvey), DeAndre Cole (Kenan Thompson), King Tut (a spectacles-clad Steve Martin; he’s a published author, don’t you know), and the Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, filling in for his late brother), I could have watched all night. Best of all: Bill Murray. As Frank Ocean, he strapped on his crushed blue velvet jacket and sang the theme song to “Jaws.” Jaws, you bastard!

The “Inside Baseball” Moments
To be honest, we loved most of them: the cast member audition reels; the nod to the still-ailing Tracy Morgan (“I’m sure Tracy would remind us that, more than anything, he’d like to get us all pregnant,” said Fey); the banter between Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, who left the show after one failed season as a writer (Seinfeld: “Larry, are you going to the party?” David: “No, why would I go to the party?”); “That’s When You Break,” Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg’s ode to actors cracking up. (Jimmy Fallon figured highly.) Worst: Eddie Murphy’s weirdly flat return after thirty years, as well as the the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too nod to the cast’s lack of diversity.  (The “we can’t cure all of society’s ills” was too brittle to be funny.) Best: Bill Murray introducing the “In Memoriam” reel. With his rueful gravitas, it turns out he’s the alum who aged most graciously. Who’d a thunk it?

This was originally published in Word and Film.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy