Back to Top

Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary recap

SNL's 40th anniversary broadcast honored the past and present of this legendary show.


SNL's 40th anniversary broadcast honored the past and present of this legendary show.

Those of us under 40 haven't lived in a world without Saturday Night Live. Almost everyone has a personal connection to the first sketch that truly spoke to him. For me, I grew up watching in the mid to late 2000s with the Andy Samberg digital shorts and the Tina Fey/Sarah Palin impersonations. I would watch older seasons such as Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin as the “wild and crazy guys!” or Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond in the “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketches, just to name a few.

Everyone has an opinion on what is or isn’t funny on the show, and with that nostalgia, for our era there can be an indifference to others. I’ll sincerely laugh watching Bill Hader as Stefon trying to contain his laughter, while my parents can find the sketch to be a little over the top.  But my parents will burst out when the Church Lady sighs, “Well, isn’t that special?” Don’t get me wrong, Dana Carvey is hilarious, but I don’t get the same kick out of it.

At SNL’s 40th anniversary, I think the sort of generational rivalry disappeared. The outstanding three-and-a-half-hour broadcast showed the extended SNL family united in the tradition all of which were once part of, celebrating not only themselves, but each other on stage. Whether through retrospective footage or star-packed revivals of classic sketches such as “Celebrity Jeopardy,” “Wayne’s World,” “Motivational Speaker Matt Foley,” and several others, they were celebrated. Eddie Murphy even returned to a standing ovation after 30 years of absence from the show.

What stood out most to me was the way eras collided constantly for 210 minutes. There were newer stars and in-their-prime stars trying to impress the legends who once inspired them, and at the same time, those legends trying to prove they still belonged on the same stage. A good example was the musicians that were chosen to perform:  Miley Cyrus and Kanye West representing the “right now,” and Paul Simon and Paul McCartney representing the “back then.” I thought Miley sounded great, and Kanye did what Kanye does. As for McCartney and Simon, they came out recognizing they were not as good as they were in their prime, only it didn’t matter. They weren’t trying to compete with Kanye and Miley, they knew better than that. They just wanted to be involved in the same show they’ve been so involved with for the past 40 years.

No musician has meant more to SNL and Lorne Michaels than Paul Simon. His Simon and Garfunkel reunion was the second show ever filmed. He kept coming back again and again after that. After 9/11 happened, Simon opened that season’s first SNL show by singing with selected New York City policeman and fireman watching from the stage. It is one of the greatest moments in the history of the show, and probably the most meaningful one as well.

No other television program could whip out 40 years of history and dozens of iconic moments while entertaining us in real time and staying true to its imperfect format. SNL 40 felt like the greatest high school reunion ever, Steve Martin cleverly joked during his monologue saying it feels like reunion of  “a high school that’s almost all white.” 30 Rock being the high school, and Lorne Michaels the principal that everyone had and came back for. Just seeing everyone who passed through the show— cast members, writers, hosts, musicians and so on— became a viewing experience in its own right. Seeing sketches, montages and taped pieces were just a bonus.

SNL 40 reminded us that Saturday Night Live belongs to New York City more than anyone else. Cast members have come and gone for 40 years, but New York City has always been there. There were five other montages:  40 years in five minutes, political humor, sports humor, the best of “Weekend Update” and the best of short films. But the New York City montage paid a great homage to the city the show was raised.

SNL 40 wasn’t perfect; the show never has been. You definitely could have sliced 30 minutes from the show without losing anything. They mishandled what could have been an excellent “Weekend Update” with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin by ditching traditional one-liners for celebrity cameos (Emma Stone and Melissa McCarthy). They wasted multiple stars on an excruciatingly long “Californians” sketch featuring some uncomfortable cameos by Laraine Newman and Taylor Swift. They never truly unleashed Will Ferrell or Kristen Wiig; they marginalized Chevy Chase and Billy Crystal, and they pretty much ignored the Eddie Murphy era (when Lorne Micheals wasn’t there).

Bill Simmons stated it best “Chris Rock gave a heartfelt speech about how Eddie saved the show in the early ‘80s and meant more than just about any black person on television, and then Eddie comes out to a standing ovation, only he’s wildly unprepared and unequivocally uninterested in entertaining anyone.”

Ultimately the five things I loved over everything:

1. The “SNL Auditions” montage that brought home the point that absolutely everyone wondered if they were good enough to appear on Saturday Night Live.

2. Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler’s “That’s When You Break” digital short, which skillfully honored anyone that started to uncontrollably laugh during sketches. It’s one of the subplots to the show that ties all of the four decades together.

3. Bill Murray showing up as lounge singer, Nick Ocean, cranking out a hilarious fake theme song to the movie Jaws.

4. The man who built the show, Lorne Michaels, getting pulled onto the stage for the closing credits and fighting back tears.

5. The Jerry Seinfeld Audience Q&A fielding questions from the celebrity filled studio audience, John Goodman, Larry David and Sarah Palin.

Follow us on social media