Did you happen to watch the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Red Carpet Special last week? For SNL fans (and judging from the ratings there are gazillions) it was really quite the celebration, a three and a half hour, star-studded extravaganza! There were cast members past and present and a parade of former hosts, musical guests and others who helped keep SNL on the air for 40 seasons, 40 long years. Speaking of which you would have thought that with that much material to pick and choose from the show would have rocked, but that didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong, the show was okay and certainly had its moments, just not enough of them. For some reason it brought to mind the opening from the Dickens classic ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ “It was the best of times, it was the worse of times,” and it was.
Actually last week’s special was a reasonably accurate representation of SNL’s long established format. I may be wrong, but I’d venture to guess that everyone of the 779 episodes and 29 SNL specials that the original show has spawned are all the same, a series of entertaining highs and boring low moments, roaring laughter and head scratching silence held together by the guest host, musical guests and Weekend Update. (at least most of the time) This time around the show had more highs than lows, but not many. There was still plenty of dead air time. The absence of laughter is hard not to notice even for a few moments, sort of like a roaring silence. But not to worry, ratings were still through the roof. SNL 40 was NBC’s best primetime viewership since 2006. Go figure.
Overall the show was just okay, nothing really special except for its three and a half hour run time. I give it a generous 5. Had NBC decided to keep the show to a more realistic two hour format it may have been good or even brilliant. As is the show seemed unorganized at times and the ongoing parade of stars who seemed to have next to nothing to say was boring, particularly the Eddie Murphy introduction by Chris Rock followed by a somewhat subdued Eddie himself. What was that all about? The time would have been better spent had NBC done more of the popular skits particularly from the early years instead of merely mentioning them as Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake did at the beginning of the show. Their opening number was entertaining but then when aren’t those two entertaining? Lorne Michaels should have chosen to use J & J more throughout the show they might have been able to keep things rolling more smoothly. And what’s up with the skits Lorne Michaels chose to use? The Californians? Celebrity Jeopardy? Wayne’s World? Really? These skits represent the best that SNL has to offer? I think not. Jeopardy did have its funny moments particularly the word phrasing of Sean Connery, but middle aged Wayne and Garth just didn’t cut it for me. Sorry but they just weren’t that funny.
For me the big question is why the Californians was even on the special. It is simply not entertaining or even funny. Maybe a little funny the first time you see it, but that’s it. Even if you were heavily medicated or happily stoned it still wouldn’t be funny. The Californians is nothing more than an East Coast dig at us West Coasters and it sucks! Just sayin’.
SNL has a reputation of presenting some of the top musical performers in the business. There have been so many notable musicians on SNL it must have been difficult to decide who should perform on the special. The selection of Paul McCartney and Paul Simon were understandable but were they the best choice to represent the past? Probably not. Oh their performances were okay, but a visit by Elvis Costello, Neil Young or Billy Joel would have really rocked the house! And the choice of Kayne West and Miley Cyrus as musical reps of the present was troublesome. Why settle for Kayne and Miley when there is so much talent out there right now? Why not Maroon Five, the Strokes or Kings of Leon? No we get Miley and Kayne. Although in Miley’s defense I have to say she really surprised me. I thought for sure she’d come out all fired up, half naked and do some tongue darting and a whole bunch of twerking, but to my surprise she came out fully clothed, with nary a body move and did a very passionate cover of Paul Simon’s “50 ways to Leave Your Lover.” I was impressed, it was very well done. I tell you there’s hope for that girl yet.
By the way where was Dennis Miller? He was always great on Weekend Update. Was he snubbed by SNL or did he snub SNL? Inquiring minds want to know. All in all, three and a half hours could have been better spent going back and reliving some of those key SNL moments that mattered. I would do have loved to have seen Lorne spend at least one of those hours paying homage to the first five seasons of SNL. Those were the formidable years. Without those groundbreaking years SNL would have never made it. The Not Ready For Prime Time Players were the anchors on which the entire show was built upon. How awesome it would have been to spend one hour reliving those glory years with skits from that time period. It would have been great to see a few minutes of ‘The Nerds’ Todd DiLa Muca and Lisa Loopner, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray were incredible! It would have been great to see a recreation or even clips of the Land Shark, Baba Wawa or the killer Bees. Maybe some Coneheads, Roseanne Roseannadanna, Samurai Man, Father Guido Saducci or Extremely Bad Theater or Bad Cinema with Dan Akyroyd who stood there clapping like a madman after the performance exclaiming “Stunningly bad!” “Exquisitely awful”and “couldn’t be worse!” Yeah that would have definitely made the show better.
Could SNL 40 have been any better? Oh hell yes! But it is what it is. SNL has survived for 40 year and is still going strong. It is an institution. So many great names have started here. Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtain, Gildas Radner, Lorraine Newman, Garret Morris and Bill Murray started it all, they were the heart and soul of SNL. They were the foundation from which SNL sprang. More time should have been given to their legacy. I tell you SNL was a spring board of talented individuals who went on to greatness. In addition to the original cast the roster includes such greats as Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Will Ferrill, Adam Sadler, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and so many many more.
Funny but back in 1975 when it all began there were naysayers in the industry who believed that SNL was doomed from the start. Many believed the show wouldn’t make it through its first season. Boy were they wrong. Lorne Michaels was on to something new and exciting and he proved it. Sure there have been some tough seasons where it looked like SNL had lost its magic. But somehow, someway SNL would come back the following year stronger than ever. Now here we are 40 years later and SNL is still going strong. The SNL 40 Special may not have been all that it could have been, but SNL lives on and one can only imagine what the SNL 50 Anniversary will be like. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.