On Sunday night, as we all know, Saturday Night Live celebrated its 40th anniversary, jamming pretty much every current and former cast member, many of its former hosts, and just about every other famous person available into Studio 8H and the Late Night with Seth Meyers studio next door.
I watched the festivities at a viewing party a few hundred feet from the studio inside 30 Rockefeller Plaza (which was actually kind of frustrating knowing all of this was going on right there, yet I was still watching on television), but it did certainly give a sense of the insane vibe. (Even armed with precise instructions and being on a list, just getting into the building turned out to be very, very difficult.) And every now and then, the journalists and publicists and your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine people at this viewing party would get a glimpse of what was going on in the other room – at one point, a tuxedoed Mike O’Brien and Tim Robinson stopped by for some food (which makes sense), then later, Bill O’Reilly walked in (Bill O’Reilly is here?).
Instead of the usual high score to low score format, selected sketches and segments (we’re skipping a few of the montages and musical performances; and I’m still calling this a “scorecard,” even though there are no scores) will be ranked in the order they aired – mostly because trying to judge and compare a new segment of “The Californians” against a montage of auditions to come up with a “Sketch of the Night” is impossible. Though, there were definitely many high points of the show and, sadly, at least one big disappointment. Anyway, enough nonsense, off we go to our own special edition of SNL Scorecard.
“Justin and Jimmy Cold Open” (Fallon, Timberlake, Dratch, Shannon) What a weird way to open the show, in that it felt like more of an advertisement for The Tonight Show than it did anything SNL-related. I mean, sure, Fallon and Timberlake were spouting off catchphrases, but their “history of” bit just seemed like something they should have done earlier in the week on Fallon’s show. Though, it was pretty great when the two started performing The Blues Brothers – they nailed Belushi and Aykroyd’s manic dancing, which got a huge reaction from where I was sitting, to the point where I wished they had just done that as the entire opening.
“Hosts Monologue” (Martin, Hanks, Baldwin, McCarthy, Rock, Manning, Cyrus, Crystal, McCartney, Simon) This was pretty great, in that it was just fun to see all of these people on stage at the same time, or to hear Paul McCartney and Paul Simon duet on “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” even briefly. Anyway, this made more sense than the cold open.
“Bass-O-Matic” (Aykroyd, Newman) What a weird thing! This felt a little bit like when a musical act will re-record one of their big hits, then throw the year on at the end, so that we know it’s an updated version. The Police did this with “Don’t Stand So Close To Me ’86.” This was SNL’s version of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me ’86.” But, whatever. Dan Aykroyd seemed to be enjoying himself.
“Celebrity Jeopardy” (Ferrell, Hammond, McKinnon, Baldwin, Macdonald, Killam, Carrey, Thompson) This is precisely why trying to “review” a show like this is a fool’s errand. This was certainly not the best “Celebrity Jeopardy” that has ever aired, but it was still so much fun to watch a brand new “Celebrity Jeopardy” that included both Sean Connery and Turd Ferguson. It also hit home how great some of the current characters, like Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber and Taran Killam’s Christoph Waltz, would be on an updated version. But, alas, this is all we will get.
“Auditions” Seriously, how great was this to watch? I’m so glad SNL broke out material like this that we haven’t seen hundreds of times. And it was surprising, yet fascinating, that they showed some of the auditions of performers who didn’t make the show (like an almost unrecognizable Zach Galifianakis).
“The Californians” (Hader, Wiig, Armisen, Newman, Bayer, Killam, Cooper, Washington, Thompson, Swift, White, Spade, Strong) If there was ever a moment that I wanted to like “The Californians,” it was on this night. (And I had plenty of time to prepare myself. When I was doing a piece on SNL set design a few weeks ago, they were already building “The Californians” set.) But, boy, this just stopped the show in its tracks. It makes sense on paper because so many people can be involved, and everyone seems to love doing it, but it was just pretty much crickets inside 30 Rock. Well, at least until Bradley Cooper and Betty White started making out. Thank goodness for that. (I never thought I’d write that sentence.) Also, bringing back David Spade’s “Buh Bye” character didn’t really make a whole lot of sense.
“Weekend Update” (Poehler, Curtin, Fey, Stone, Norton, Meyers, McCarthy, Quinn, Nealon, Macdonald, Chase, Morris) How about Jane Curtin! It was pretty wonderful to see her stand out alongside Poehler and Fey, who are so used to working together. Anyway, Poehler, Fey and Curtin all together were great, and there was an energy to this “Update” that, frankly, is missing a bit right now. Granted, it’s not really fair at all to compare, so I will stop. Though, I wish more “Update” hosts had gotten a chance to be on camera. I know the years between ’80 and ’85 were weird years for “Update” (so weird, in fact, it wasn’t even called “Update”), but it would have been nice to see Brian Doyle-Murray and Brad Hall on stage as well. Also, I guess Dennis Miller just wants nothing to do with SNL any longer. Has there been a more disappointing post-SNL career than Dennis Miller?
“Marty and Beyoncé” (Short, Rudolph, Armisen, Wiig, Ferrell, Gasteyer, Piscopo, Carvey, Sandler, Thompson, Sudeikis, Zamata, Strong, Martin, Schaffer, Murray, Aykroyd, Belushi) I realize it would have been near impossible, but wouldn’t it have been great if all of the montages were like this? Sure, it was neat to see Jack Nicholson introduce clips about politics, but here we had everyone doing updated versions of their famous musical characters live. (I do realize that the nature of musical characters lends itself to something like this more than, say, Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush.) And, probably for the last time ever, we saw Jason Sudeikis jumping around in his red tracksuit during a quick “What’s Up With That?” segment.
“Eddie Murphy Tribute” (Rock, Murphy) I honestly made a deep sighing sound as I started to write this part. Murphy hasn’t appeared on SNL since 1984, mainly stemming from an on-air joke that David Spade made in the early ‘90s about Murphy. I would bet a lot of money that SNL tried to get Murphy to perform in some capacity, then Murphy finally agreed to be on the show after an offer resembling “what if we kiss your ass for 10 minutes” was made. Now, here’s the thing: Murphy deserved to have his ass kissed. If I were Murphy, I’d be a little miffed about that joke, too. He really did save SNL, and a joke about his flailing movie career seemed unnecessarily mean. Having said that, I wish Murphy had more to say than “thanks” after getting such a warm reception. After weeks of hype, that was pretty much it. Murphy spoke for such a short amount of time, it wasn’t even time for the commercial break yet (fitting, right after Rock bragged how Murphy once went out to kill some dead air), setting up an awkward exchange and a fade out as Murphy began talking again. Anyway, I want to live in a world in which Eddie Murphy embraces SNL again, and we obviously aren’t quite there yet. Baby steps, I suppose.
“ESPN Classic” (Forte, Sudeikis) Yes, this was super short, but who cares? Who would have guessed we’d see Twinkle and Stink on this show?
“Audience Q&A” (Seinfeld, Douglas, Goodman, Franco, David, Cleghorne, Johnson, Meadows, Odenkirk, Palin) Some of these interactions worked, some didn’t. But this was all kind of worth it just for the exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. Also, this was the first time that Sarah Palin’s presence somewhere was actually not bad! Credit where it’s due: She actually nailed her lines. Also, Tim Meadows bringing up that (let’s face it, kind of oddly ranked) Rolling Stone list of cast members was pretty great. It’s too bad Robert Downey, Jr. wasn’t there to respond to being ranked dead last.
“Tracy Morgan Moment” (Fey, Baldwin) I happened to be sitting next to Tracy Morgan’s publicist when this aired and he had no idea this was happening. I usually just assumed everything is planned out to a point that everyone on “the inside” knows what’s coming and when, but this came as a legitimate surprise and he looked legitimately touched.
“That’s When You Break” (Samberg, Sandler, Hader, Galifianakis) I actually enjoyed watching Sandler participate in this digital short. And, see, here’s another clever way to make a montage into something new. And, yes, repeating Fallon and Sanz over and over and over was funny and it was true and it was warranted.
“Wayne’s World” (Myers, Carvey) Two things about this stood out. First, the joke about Kanye West (who was a good sport and participated) that we were all thinking about was his tendency to crash awards speeches. But, there’s added context when we remember Mike Myers’ own history with Kanye during the benefit special to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Second, it was really great that, in the end, this became a tribute to the crew of SNL. Having just recently done that piece on the set designers, but also watching how this show operates from behind the scenes, it’s a miracle they pull it off every week. But, here’s the thing: When you talk to the members of the crew, they don’t realize that what they do is miracle. To them, so many of them have been doing it for so long, it’s just “normal.” Anyway, they all very much deserved that tribute.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.