By Chaz Lipp
For longtime Saturday Night Live fans, the 40th Anniversary Special (broadcast live on NBC, February 15 – a Sunday, no less) was a one-of-a-kind epic of awesomeness, despite a few flat moments (and some surprisingly slapdash staging on occasion). Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake kicked it off with a high energy rap that set a fun tone for the night. The main treat was seeing so many previous cast members paying tribute to SNL’s greatest moments. The interesting part was assessing which ones still have their comedic chops and which ones have let their skill-set erode somewhat.
Of the ‘70s cast, Bill Murray easily fell into the “still got it” category with his performance as lounge lizard Nick Ocean, singing “Love Theme from Jaws.” Dan Aykroyd wasn’t quite as sharp, gamely trotting out his motor-mouthed TV salesman routine for “Bass-O-Matic” redux. Aykroyd, with James Belushi filling in for his legendary brother John, sang “Everybody Needs Somebody” as the Blues Brothers (their hearts were in the right place, but it was a tired performance). Jane Curtin made a strong return to the Weekend Update desk, joining Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Chevy Chase’s humdrum appearance was redeemed by Garrett Morris redoing the classic “News for the Hard of Hearing” bit. Not many early ‘80s representatives were in the house, though Eddie Murphy made a welcome return. He seemed determined to avoid saying anything remotely humorous, even questioning why the crew didn’t cut to commercial at the moment he expected (okay, that actually was kinda funny).
An audience Q&A session led by Jerry Seinfeld was among the 3.5 hour show’s liveliest segments, especially when Tim Meadows asked if it’d be okay to read Rolling Stone magazine’s recent SNL cast rankings aloud (Seinfeld correctly said it wasn’t a great idea). Some of the folks participating in the festivities were rather contentiously ranked near the very bottom of the 141-member list, including Norm Macdonald – who was in great form as Burt Reynolds in an all-new “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketch. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey slipped perfectly back into character as Wayne and Garth, counting down the top ten best things about SNL (which concluded with a heartfelt tribute to the show’s crew).
What really didn’t work was an interminable new “The Californians,” despite an appearance by original SNL “valley girl” Laraine Newman. The highlight was Bradley Cooper locking lips with Betty White, but the lowlight was Taylor Swift, who overplayed her hand – rendering her dialogue nearly unintelligible. But even a dud sketch was forgivable, given the party atmosphere of the entire show. Sadly, even with such an extended running time, longtime SNL cast favorites who were present in the audience – Chris Kattan, for example – were not included.
The musical surprise of the night was a killer “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” cover by Miley Cyrus. She managed to improbably upstage Paul Simon himself, whose “Still Crazy After All These Years” was competent but sleepy. Luckily Simon was joined by another Paul – McCartney, specifically – for a brief but charming duet of “I’ve Just Seen a Face” during Steve Martin’s opening monologue. McCartney took center stage with his road band for a spirited “Maybe I’m Amazed,” but unfortunately he wasn’t in the best voice (Keith Richards introduced him, which was undeniably cool). The less said about Kanye West’s self-indulgent medley, the better (though he did have a couple fun moments during the “Wayne’s World” sketch).
SNL 40th Anniversary Special Images: NBC