SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE 40th Anniversary Special Review

The Super Bowl for comedy nerds.

I admit I haven't watched SNL as diligently in recent years; I usually tune in for the season premiere and an episode or two after that, to get a look at the new cast members... and then basically abandon it for the rest of the year, unless I have a particular affinity for the host. Or if I hear Chevy Chase will be on it, because I am a lifelong fan (more like defender/apologist, these days) and will watch anything that he shows up in (just last week I found myself a full 50% of the audience for some awful Matt LeBlanc vehicle called Lovesick, where Chevy had about 5 minutes of screentime as LeBlanc's wacky neighbor). It's more due to a lack of free time than anything; my DVR is always nearing full with shows that will be spoiled for me on social media, so SNL (running 30 minutes longer than those other shows to boot) just gets the shaft.

So it's actually kind of impressive (to me) that I sat and watched all 3.5 hours of the 40th Anniversary special last night, like it was the friggin Super Bowl or something. Part of that was, of course, waiting for Chevy's part, but even after he came and went on a rather stiff gag, I stuck with it until the credits had finished rolling, totally sucked in by its inspired blend of reunion and brand new episode. Unlike past specials, they didn't overload it with stuff we've already seen; even when Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey came out to pay tribute to Tracy Morgan (still recovering from a horrific car accident last year), they didn't play a whole sketch - just 30 seconds of a fairly typical Brian Fellow bit. Recently departed Jan Hooks didn't get any more fanfare than the other dead cast members (Belushi, Radner, etc), and if I'm not mistaken, there wasn't a single back-stage gag involving cast members running into each other and trading barbs.

Instead, they celebrated their past with new skits; a Weekend Update (with Tina, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin) just had a bunch of news reports at the show's expense, and then a revolving list of celebrity guests impersonating old Update guest commentators (Edward Norton as Stefon was a nice surprise). Andy Samberg returned with a new digital short (co-starring Adam Sandler and Chris Parnell, his partner for the "Lazy Sunday" video that sparked the phenomenon) where they paid tribute to all of the times cast members broke during skits ("And another Fallon & Sanz...") to the tune of "You're Simply The Best," and Wayne & Garth returned with a top 10 things about SNL, with #1 being the show's crew. It was a pretty inspired way to celebrate the show's incredible run and play up the reunion angle without just showing us a bunch of clips for three hours. But there were some traditional new skits too; with everyone in the house it would have been a sin not to offer up a new Celebrity Jeopardy (featuring about seven contestants), and even though the joke had long since run thin it was nice to see a new Californians, if mainly to enjoy the inspired casting of Laraine Newman as Kristen Wiig's character's mother (I don't think Newman has ever made random cameos on the show since she left in 1980, unlike the other cast members from her era, so this was a real treat).

There were also a lot (too many?) of playful shots at Lorne Michaels; several impressions of his voice, a few references to his quiet nature, and even more than one joke about the Jean Doumanian/Dick Ebersol era. There were also a few gags about the 1985 season (Tim Meadows appeared for the sole purpose of making a joke about Robert Downey Jr's less than memorable stint on the show), which pretty much served as its only direct presence in the episode beyond acknowledging Dennis Miller in the tribute to all 23 Update anchors, since he began during that season. The show making fun of itself is part of its own legacy in a weird way, going all the way back to the "Don't Look Back In Anger" short film from 1978 where John Belushi, in old man makeup, claimed to be the last surviving member of the show's cast ("Here's Chevy's grave... he died after his first movie with Goldie Hawn"), so it would feel wrong for these guys to not spend a good chunk of the night taking shots at themselves.

There were some disappointments, too. Not everyone there got to actually be in the show, and Cecily Strong deserves better than simply backing up David Spade during a quick, pointless reprise of the "Buh BYE!" airline attendants. Eddie Murphy's much ballyhooed return was a giant dud, with Chris Rock's introduction for the man lasting longer (and having more laughs), and similarly, the quartet of past Update anchors Kevin Nealon, Norm MacDonald, Seth Meyers and (eh) Colin Quinn, paying tribute to Chevy for setting the tone for the fake news, was much more entertaining than Chevy himself, awkwardly coming out on stage and doing a callback to "News For The Hard of Hearing" with Garrett Morris. And how do you not get Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short together for something when they're all there? Speaking of Short, he was the MVP of the night for my money, pointing out that he's gotten to host as often as Robert Blake and then displaying his still dominant physical comedy prowess for a musical number with Maya Rudolph's Beyoncé.

But overall I was pretty happy with the special; it was the first of its kind since the 25th (30th and 35th anniversary specials were planned but never executed), and in my memory this was superior. It's a bummer not everyone showed up (Dennis Miller was seemingly a no-show, others like Rob Schneider and David Koechner were in the crowd but not in any sketches), but I only noticed their absence afterwards - I was having too much fun while it was airing. I had a great time reminiscing about the days when watching the show meant begging to stay up late (my first being the Fred Savage-hosted episode), and of when it was at its creative peak (the Sandler/Myers/Carrey/Hartman/Farley era). It even inspired me to watch it next time it's on if I'm awake, so there's something. What did you guys think?

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