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Scoring the Highlights (and the Tone-Deaf Lowlights) of SNL's 40th Anniversary Special

By Dustin Rowles | Saturday Night Live | February 16, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | Saturday Night Live | February 16, 2015 |

Last night’s three-and-a-half hour 40th Anniversary Special of Saturday Night Live was something of a mixed bag. If you’re into nostalgia, reliving old SNL memories, celebrating four decades of cast members, and spotting stars, the Anniversary special was a blast. They crammed over 60 celebrities into the special, hit a few high notes (and a few sour ones), capably covered 40 years of highlights, and appropriately celebrated Lorne Michaels for keeping the SNL ship afloat since 1975.

On the other hand, as a stand-alone episode of SNL, the show didn’t bring a lot of meaningful new material to the table. It’s a show that works as an “Anniversary Show,” but little to nothing in SNL40 will be remembered by next week, which is to say: There weren’t any highlights in the 40th Anniversary show likely to show up in the 50th Anniversary special.

It was fun at times, while it dragged in others — it was a little overstuffed with half-formed tributes, and — for most of our tastes — it didn’t resurrect nearly enough sketches and characters for encores. Aside from “WHORE ADS,” and the Love Theme from Jaws, not a lot from SNL40 is going to be quoted around the water cooler this morning.

But the 40th Anniversary Special accomplished what it most needed to accomplish: It celebrated itself, and in its own way, reminded us of what’s go great (and what’s often not so great) about the show.

Let’s take a look at the highlights and lowlights of SNL40:

Cold Open — Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake had the honors of opening the the show with a brilliant rap chronicling 40 years of SNL’s best catchphrases. This is how you open the show, folks, complete with Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer and Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher. (Score: 9/10, and the only reason I’m dropping it a point is to give myself some room in case there’s something even better (though, that would ultimately prove unnecessary))

Monologue — Steve Martin, appropriately, gets the monologue honors, since he’s old enough that, theoretically, he may not be around on the 50th. Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock, Melissa McCarthy, Alec Baldwin, Peyton Manning (who is very tall), Miley Cyrus, Billy Crystal, Paul McCartney, and Paul Simon join him to debate what kind of celebrity makes for the best host. It’s a fine monologue (leading into some prerecorded clips), but we’re grading on a curve tonight, so: (Score: 6/10)

Bass-O-Matic — After a Buzzfeed montage of some of the best sketches in 40 years, Dan Aykroyd appears to reprise his Bass-O-Matic sketch. It’s cute, for nostalgia’s sake, but it doesn’t really add anything new. (Score: 5/10)

Jeopardy — Will Ferrell is back to do Celebrity Jeopardy, with Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond), Justin Bieber (Kate McKinnon), Tony Bennett (Alec Baldwin), and late entrants, Burt Reynolds (Norm McDonald), Matthew McConaughey (Jim Carrey), and Christoph Waltz (Taran Killam). Trebek really is Will Ferrell’s best ever work as a straight man, and if the rest of the night were encore performances of beloved sketches like this one, I’d have been immensely pleased. As it turned out, new sketches were in short supply. (Score: 8/10)

Auditions — Of all the montages, the look back at the auditions of cast members who made it (and some famous ones who didn’t) was probably my favorite, if only because we hadn’t seen all of these dozens of times already. The highlight may have been Jimmy Fallon’s audition tape, which illustrates that he may have actually experienced puberty over the course of his time on the show.

Californians — It was never funny. Bradley Cooper, Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift, and Betty White doesn’t magically make it so. The only thing about this sketch that was ever good was the characters inexplicably breaking, and while there is a little of that here, there’s not nearly enough. The day the Californians is a funny sketch is the day that it ends with MacGruber “defusing” a bomb. (Score: 2 out of 10, and it only gets a two because Bradley Cooper made out with Betty White)

Weekend Update — Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Jane Curtin: Perfect. If only ALL the jokes weren’t actually about Saturday Night Live’s history.

Much of the rest of Update is celebrities doing impressions of their favorite “SNL” characters: Emma Stone doing Gilda Radnor’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, Edward Norton doing Stefon, and Melissa McCarthy doing Matt Foley (nice!). Afterwards, a lengthy “Weekend Update” montage completely skipped over the fact that Cecily Strong was ever an anchor. (Score: 6/10)

Weekend Update: Roseanne Roseannadanna

Weekend Update: Stefon
Weekend Update: Matt Foley

Chevy Chase Tribute
The only thing remarkable about this tribute is that former “Update” anchors Kevin Nealon, Norm Macdonald, Seth Meyers and Colin Quinn manage not to call Chevy Chase an asshole even once.

Marty & Beyoncé — Martin Short, Maya Rudolph as Beyonce, Garth and Kat, Marty and Bobby Culp, Joe Piscopo (as Sinatra), Dana Carvey (doing “Choppin’ Brocoli), Adam Sandler’s “Opera Man,” and Steve Martin’s King Tut reprisals cover the musical highlights. But Bill Murray singing the love theme from Jaws theme is topped only by Jason Sudeikis in his track suit jumping out for “What’s Up with That.” That’s all I wanted out of this show. That was legitimately a blast. (Score: 8/10)

Eddie Murphy — One of the highest points of the show was followed, arguably, by its lowest point: Eddie Murphy appeared after a great Chris Rock intro, only to accept everyone’s applause and walk away. That was terrible. What? Eddie Murphy is too good to participate in a sketch? What a supreme waste. (Score: 1/10)

ESPN Classic

Pete Twinkle (Jason Sudeikis) and Greg Stink (Will Forte) take a break from covering the action to advertise a feminine razor. This sketch will never get old. (Score: 8/10)

Jerry Seinfeld — Jerry takes questions from the audience. Larry David, Michael Douglas, John Goodman. Tim Meadows, Ellen Cleghorne, Bob Odenkirk, and Sarah Palin ask the questions. It’s an OK segment, but certainly nothing to write home about. (Score: 4/10)

Tracy Morgan Moment

Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin pay tribute to Tracy Morgan, which is fine, if only they’d decided to pay tribute with more than that one short clip (that wasn’t even Astronaut Jones).

Digital Short: That’s When You Break — An original Digital Short recounting many of the best character breaks featuring over 40 years featuring two alums best known for breaking character, Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler. It’s absolutely fantastic, and it’s good to see that Adam Sandler — as opposed to Eddie Murphy — doesn’t feel he’s “above” doing more sketch work on the show. It’s also a nice reminder of why we all once loved Sandler. I miss that guy. (Score: 9/10)

In Memoriam
Bill Murray honors the dearly departed members of the SNL family. Frankly, I appreciated that Murray (and Lovitz) brought a little levity to the In Memoriam reel.

Wayne’s World — Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey reprise their characters to do the top ten list of best things about SNL. It’s cute, mostly as a sweet way to acknowledge Lorne Michaels and the crew of SNL. (Score: 5/10)

If you haven’t seen them yet, Paul McCartney, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West (with Sia), and Paul Simon also performed, and as loathe as I am to admit it, Miley Cyrus’ version of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” may have actually been the better musical performance of the night.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.