SNL 40: An Ultimately Bizarre and Forced Tribute to Better Times

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So last night was the much talked about and heavily promoted ‘SNL 40th Anniversary Show’ which played less like a show and more like a bloated decathlon of self-congratulatory back patting. The usual suspects were all there as was immediately evident by the drawn out intro dance number featuring Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and partner in crime, Justin Timberlake. What followed were various highlight reels from classic bits; that I’m surprised haven’t been completely worn out considering how frequently NBC airs them, appearances by legendary cast members of yore;  most notably but least interesting of all being Eddie Murphy, and a plethora of musical acts which ranged from the pleasantly nostalgic to the downright awful.

Among the many ‘tweeted’ about moments of the evening included the rather heartfelt tribute to the still recovering Tracy Morgan presented by fellow ’30-Rock’ cast members Alec Baldwin and Tiny Fey, witty revivals of ‘Wayne’s World’ and Weekend Update featuring past cast members Dana Carvey, Mike Myers and Jane Curtin respectively, and various cameos by celebrities who made their mark on the show over the past four decades.

Many critics and fans alike expressed their extreme disappointment that eighties darling Eddie Murphy in particular did not opt to revive the myriad of characters he made famous during his four years on the show but instead seemed to accept the thunderous applause after Chris Rock’s rousing tribute as worthy of his presence and go no further.

Other disappointments were the ridiculously overlong revived skits of the past 5 years like the head scratching ‘Californians’, which seemed to be little more than an extended set up for Bradley Cooper to comically make out with Betty White. It was also painful to see stars like Emma Stone attempt to pull of a dim impression of a Gilda Radner skit, which admittedly is an impossible task to begin with but ultimately was swiftly outshined by an appearance by Edward Norton doing his ‘Stefon’.

While it was certainly nice to see fan favorites like Kevin Nealon, Norm McDonald, Joe Piscopo, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal and a rather tired looking Chevy Chase keeping up appearances, those moments were so short lived that one can’t help but think that the current pool of writers for the show simply couldn’t be bothered to write new updated dialogue for such classic skits. Aside from the fact that the program lasted for what seemed like an eternity made ever longer by the nonstop chain of commercials, we were also “treated” to live performances by musical acts from both Miley Cyrus and Kanye West (doing his best Yoko Ono impression) who reminded nostalgic viewers everywhere just how low the pool of available talent has been whittled down to. On the more positive side of the show’s history of musical guests, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon made appearances with the former performing, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and the latter doing, ‘Still Crazy After all These Years’.

Speaking of ‘crazy’; whose decision was it to let Miley Cyrus sing ’50 Ways to Leave your Lover’, and yet miss out on a golden opportunity to have Chevy Chase and Paul Simon do ‘You Can call me Al’ ? I suppose the answer lies in the mind of Lorne Michaels and NBC execs, who seemed to be more focused on trying to plug ‘more recent talent’ in exchange for the countless comic icons who brought the show initial fame and were ultimately just scenery for the camera to linger on for a few seconds.

Perhaps my personal ‘wow’ moment of the evening besides the chance to see audition tapes from past stars like Jan Hooks and Will Ferrell, was seeing Jack Nicholson show up and present a montage, although maybe this is just the ‘Chinatown’ fan in me talking.

In the end, I suppose the night could’ve been worse and for those long-time fans of the show who were lucky enough to watch it live during its better seasons, the chance to see old favorites was certainly a tasty treat among the many bits of tripe thrown in between. More importantly however, let’s remember those cast members who left too soon and even from beyond still manage to coax a smile out of the most cynical of us critics.

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