SNL 40: is there such a thing as too many celebrities?

Max Miranda , A&E Editor

On Feb. 15, America was reminded that shows that feel timeless actually did have beginnings.  Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary Special managed to dazzle more than one generation during the three-hour-long special, jam-packed with enough celebrities to fill Yankee Stadium and an unhealthy amount of nostalgia. Despite the night generally appeasing viewers, the special could not honestly be considered representative of what the show has been for the last 40 years.

Instead, “the celebration of SNL” could be considered just that, and nothing more. The night felt more like a wacky star-packed victory lap (albeit an entertaining one) than it did a coherent show.

For example, the show’s first sketch was the monologue instead of a cold open, and although Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s musical tribute was reminiscent of the show’s long history of musical monologues, people were a little surprised when Steve Martin came out for a second monologue. With a total lack of transition from one generation’s jokes to another, this attempted blend of old and new felt choppy and unnatural for a show that is usually timely.

The show featured a mix of supercuts and live skits; though it is definitive that people familiar with old sketches appreciated such tributes, they were ineffective for younger viewers. The clip reels featured one liners instead of longer sketches, and despite the time constraint it seemed clear that the greatest minds in the creative industry could have come up with a better way. For example, Will Ferrell’s company Funny or Die did a “Presidential Reunion” of all the comedians who had played a POTUS on SNL. Such combination sketches would have been better suited to honor the show’s esteemed history. Then again, regardless of the medium, everyone can respect what the show has accomplished, even with near mediocre understanding of the show’s history.

By far the best representative sketch of the special was the Celebrity Jeopardy which, while thoroughly entertaining and nostalgic, was tainted with a sense of excess and missing refinement. There was clear evidence that this sketch was rushed, but it still received rave reviews overall and was frankly enjoyable. The sketch featured the traditional plot line of Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond) making fun of Alex Trebek (Will Ferrell) and his mother. The show was also packed with a Justin Bieber impression by Kate McKinnon, Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett, Jim Carrey as Matthew McConaughey, Taran Killam as Christoph Waltz, and Norm MacDonald as Burt Reynolds as Turd Ferguson, because why not? The point is, this sketch got pretty freaky pretty fast, and to quote Lorne Michaels, “Sure, it got a laugh, but did it get the right laugh?”

Kanye West’s musical performance took place under a white sheet and he just lay down the entire time. It should be noted that if literally any other artist except Lady Gaga were to do this, it would have gone viral.

The show had plenty of high points, including a surprisingly new-feeling Wayne’s World tribute, a Martin Short-Beyoncé (Maya Rudolph) ode to musical sketches, and a critically-acclaimed rendition of the Jaws theme by Bill Murray. There is no doubt that reviews were ultimately positive both on traditional media and social media.

The New York Times called it “a high-spirited, generous tribute, self-mocking, as well as self-congratulatory.”

Overall, the night might have had some awkward moments, like Jerry Seinfeld’s audience Q&A, which just felt like an excuse to include all the other cameos that the writers had not had time for. And you know your tribute is not perfect when Chris Rock can give a more heartwarming speech about Eddie Murphy than Eddie Murphy can give about his career’s springboard (a.k.a. SNL).

But as a whole, the night accomplished its goal of entertaining audiences young and old and putting a fun spin on 40 laugh-filled years.