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SNL 40 RECAP: SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Celebrates Four Decades and Lorne Michaels

When NBC aired its mega SNL 40 special on Sunday, I was out of town. Normally I'd have my laptop in front of me and would spend the night live-tweeting the thing, but I wasn't on the Popculturology clock that night. (I'm also pretty sure it would have been rude to spend three and a half hours with my nose in my laptop while watching with my girlfriend and her parents.) I've spent a lifetime watching Saturday Night Live and a few years writing about the show, so despite the delay, I still wanted to get my thoughts on SNL 40 out there.

There are few bigger pop culture machines than SNL. Over the course of four decades, the show has become an immovable touchstone, always there on Saturday night, constantly churning out talent, catchphrases and pieces of culture that weave themselves into our daily lives. We wouldn't have modern pop culture without SNL.

When SNL 40 first started coming together a few months ago, I didn't pay it much attention. I was well aware that this was the 40th season of SNL, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I realized Lorne Michaels and NBC were busy assembling the greatest collection of comedic talent in the history of TV (of everything?) to celebrate the milestone. A red carpet pre-show for SNL 40 was odd (c'mon, these are awkward comedians), but it served as the perfect way to build up to the main show. If you didn't fully grasp the history of SNL that was going to be lauded on Sunday night, watching SNL castmembers from 40 years come together before the show should have clued you in.

I joked that SNL 40 needed to be three and a half hours long because it was going to take Darrell Hammond at least an hour to read all the names present there during the opening credits. This was an impressive list — and I'm sure no easy task to get everyone together.

Did SNL 40 run too long? Was it bloated with awkward tributes to Eddie Murphy, an appearance by Garth and Kat and a "Californians" sketch that consumed the middle of the show? Yes. But it was still the perfect way to remind everyone, from those of us who sit in front of our TVs every Saturday night to watch the show to the people who every year proclaim that SNL is dead, why SNL is still very alive and why it matters to pop culture.

SNL 40 began with one of its newest bromances: Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. The duo have become inseparable over the past few years. They brought us "The Barry Gibb Talk Show," Timberweek while Fallon was still hosting Late Night and even headlined an episode of SNL last season as host and musical guest (who was also kind of the host).

Fallon and Timberlake ran through a laundry list of SNL catchphrases during the special's cold open. I was instantly reminded of their "History of Rap" segments from Late Night and The Tonight Show, but this cold open didn't hit the mark as well as those segments. The Rachel Dratch as Debbie Downer cameo was an on-point reminder that SNL musical openers don't always do well.

This was the only time we saw Fallon and Timberlake live, and if we were only going to get the duo once, I would have rather had them appear in a different way. Yes, it was important to open the special in a big way with big names, but when I think of what they've done together, I don't always think of them in an SNL way. Fallon and Timberlake performing together are Camp Winnipesaukee — not a cold open.

That's a ton of names. Some big ones that I noticed were missing: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Conan O'Brien. I'm not surprised that people like Jenny Slate either weren't invited back or chose not to come too.

As Steve Martin's monologue got going, I thought it was going to turn into a Five Timers Club sketch. Alec Baldwin and Tom Hanks were up there. We already knew that Justin Timberlake was in the house. Instead we got a monologue that celebrated that variety of hosts who have led an episode of SNL. The actors, the comedians, the athletes, the musicians — this monologue put SNL greats like Martin on the same level as Miley Cyrus.

That may sound like some kind of joke, but think about it — sometimes the best SNL hosts are the people you never expected and sometimes the best actors are the worst SNL hosts. The show is a monster unlike anything else in pop culture. If you're game for whatever the writers throw at you and are willing to do whatever it takes to get a laugh, SNL could make you a fan favorite.

Dan Aykroyd brought back the "Bass-o-Matic" sketch from his time on SNL. That was before my time watching SNL, which meant I was left to just laugh at the idea of blending a bass and watching those additional basses refuse to blend. This was an interesting choice to follow the monologue.

Could you throw a bash celebrating 40 years of SNL without bringing back "Celebrity Jeopardy"? We had to see Will Ferrell don the Alex Trebek mustache one more time. We had to guess whether Hammond's Sean Connery would realize Whore Ads and Le Tits Now were hidden among those categories. (Obviously he was going to see them.) SNL 40 also gave us Norm Macdonald as Burt Reynolds/Turd Ferguson again, all while mixing in Kate McKinnon's current and amazing Justin Bieber impression.

SNL 40 was at its best during segments like this, bringing together multiple generations of the show.

Current castmembers Pete Davidson and Leslie Jones introduced the next segment, one featuring the auditions tapes of several SNL castmembers ... and several people who Michaels surely wished he had hired for the show.

While I've seen the Fallon audition tape before, there were still several gems in this segment. I would have never guessed that Kristen Wiig performed Target Lady during her audition tape. Watching Kevin Hart, Zach Galifianakis and Stephen Colbert all try to impress the SNL bigwigs was also fascinating. Could you imagine how different pop culture would be if Colbert's big break had come from SNL instead of Jon Stewart's Daily Show machine?

It wouldn't be SNL without New York City. Maybe you could shoot SNL in any studio in any city, but it wouldn't have the same heart. That couldn't be more evident than when watching the clip of Michaels asking former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani if it was OK to be funny again after Sept. 11, 2001.

I guess the lady who sang this song for The OC wasn't available.

During my senior year of college, I wrote a paper on SNL's impact on presidential politics. Before The Daily Show, SNL was unrivaled when it came to shaping the public's perception of candidates. Chevy Chase's clumsy Gerald Ford, Phil Hartman's McDonald's-loving Bill Clinton, Ferrell's aloof George W. Bush — these caricatures became more engrained in our minds than the real people. SNL could sink a candidate too, whether it was Hammond's Al Gore talking about lock boxes or Tina Fey's legendary Sarah Palin impression.

My feelings on "The Californians" has always been mixed. As a showcase for Wiig and Fred Armisen, I despise the sketch. I do love watching Bill Hader do everything he can to not break while reciting ridiculous lists of California travel routes.

For SNL 40, "The Californians" served a purpose. It got a ton of SNL castmembers, past and present, into a sketch and it did it quickly. Unfortunately, "quickly" is not a word anyone could use to describe the length of this sketch. Less of this could have meant more time to honor Saturday TV Funhouse or show Tracy Morgan sketches.

When Taylor Swift hosted SNL a few years ago, I thought she was fantastic. I've been hoping she would host again someday, but after watching her flub her way through "The Californians," I don't know if that's the best idea ...

SNL 40 snuck David Spade and Cecily Strong into the end of this sketch too, adding Strong to a reprisal of Spade's buh-bye airline attendant.

Going into SNL 40, I was curious how the special would deal with "Weekend Update." My hopes were that SNL would give us all of the "Update" hosts at once, creating the greatest collection of fake news anchors ever assembled. SNL 40 went with Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin instead, which was still a pretty awesome trio.

From there, SNL 40's "Weekend Update" segment brought three of its most popular guests — with a twist. First off, Emma Stone appeared as Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna. I've read countless interviews that mentioned Stone's dead-on Radner impression. There probably wasn't a better place to show the world what Stone could do with that than during SNL 40.

Like Stone, Edward Norton is an Oscar-nomianted actor. Somehow, though, here was Norton dressed in the absurd Ed Hardy-esque clothing worn by Hader's Stefon. Norton was quickly joined by the real deal, with Stefon showing up to give Norton a few pointers. Did you know that Stefon's trademark "hands covering the mouth" move is actually a teepee for your secrets?

There was never any doubt that Melissa McCarthy was going to take her impression of Chris Farley's Matt Foley right into that "Update" desk. The predictability of this segment kind of sucked the fun out of it.

HOW DO YOU LEAVE CECILY STRONG OUT OF THE LIST OF "UPDATE" ANCHORS? Seriously. SERIOUSLY. We're just pretending that Strong never anchored the "Weekend Update" desk for an entire season? SNL made a mistake when they kept Colin Jost instead of Strong, and they slapped her the face during SNL 40 with this move.

Guys, Chase looks like he's in rough shape. He was on Community just a few years ago and didn't look like death then. What's going on with him? Are we celebrating SNL 40 instead of waiting ten years for SNL 50 to avoid having to include people like Chevy Chase in the memoriam segment?

I would take the Maya Rudolph version of Beyonce over the real thing any day. (Don't tell the Beygency I said that.) This may have been the highlight of the show. Martin Short with Rudolph's Beyonce, Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer as Marty and Bobbi Culp, Martin's King Tut, Adam Sandler's Opera Man, Bill Murray singing the Jaws theme song and getting bleeped.

But then there was Garth and Kat. I've yet to find one person — ONE. SINGLE. PERSON. — who likes Garth and Kat. Does Lorne Michaels find them funny? Is this his way of pranking the universe? Do Wiig and Armisen have some super secret dirt on him that they're using to blackmail their way back onto SNL to stay relevant? Please, please, please let this be the last time we ever have to see Garth and Kat.

Look, I know that Eddie Murphy is widely credited as saving SNL during its dark days. Perhaps what Chris Rock said is true and we wouldn't have SNL today if it wasn't for Murphy. None of that makes it OK that Rock and the audience treated Murphy like he was the Second Coming only for Murphy to flub a joke and then send to commercial.

SNL made you, Eddie Murphy. If it wasn't for the show and its fans, you wouldn't be where you are today. When the show is celebrating its 50th anniversary, come down off your pedestal and do a sketch or two.

Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning were both right — there are no better athletes-turned-SNL hosts than them. Sorry, Charles Barkley.

When you're five hours into the special, it's easier to sneak in Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte making feminine hygiene jokes.

Cyrus was surprisingly dressed up for SNL 40.

I normally dread Jerry Seinfeld in any modern setting (what's the deal with email?), but he performed well as an SNL host rolling out the "let's take questions from the audience" monologue. I found it interesting that we got Sarah Palin (someone I don't think is in on the joke) instead of Robert Downey Jr. (someone who is always in on the joke) for this monologue.

There needs to be an SNL 50 for no other reason than for Tracy Morgan to triumphantly return after his horrific car accident. Hopefully everyone at home slapped their belly in his honor.

Apparently Kanye West is a member of the SNL family.

SNL's storied history of fake ads should have had their own segment instead of getting lumped in with the short films.

What was easier money, that SNL 40 would bring back "Celebrity Jeopardy" or there would be a new Digital Short? In what basically amounted to a tribute to Jimmy Fallon breaking in every sketch he was ever in, Andy Samberg teamed with his That's My Boy costar Adam Sandler for "That's When You Break."

As I mentioned before, I felt SNL 40 could have used Justin Timberlake in a way that was better than just the cold open. This is where he should have come in. With the exception of "Lazy Sunday," the indelible image of Digital Shorts is Samberg and Timberlake together. Whether it was "Dick in a Box," "Motherlover" or "Three Way (The Golden Rule)," that duo took Digital Shorts to a higher level. They should have reunited for SNL 40.

I've always found the John Belushi cemetery sketch as eerily prescient. Kind of a creepy way to lead off an In Memoriam segment.

Closing out SNL 40 on a high note, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey brought back "Wayne's World." As was the case with many SNL 40 segments, Wayne and Garth knew they were on SNL for this one night. The fourth wall broken, the pair offered their top ten reasons why SNL was worth celebrating.

Their No. 1 item? Lorne Michaels. Much of SNL 40 focused on the impact Michaels had on the show. He's been its driving force for all but a few years during the 1980s. While Michaels hasn't said he's nearing retirement or was considering handing off SNL to a new showrunner, SNL 40 felt like a farewell to Lorne Michaels. SNL castmembers, hosts and musical guests from 40 years of episodes had come to pay tribute to the show and the genius behind it.

C'mon, Paul Simon should've sang a Miley Cyrus song.

And that was it. Let's do it again in ten years.
SNL 40 RECAP: SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Celebrates Four Decades and Lorne Michaels Reviewed by Bill Kuchman on 2/17/2015 Rating: 5

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