As a big fan of Saturday Night Live, I was really looking forward to last night’s 40th anniversary tribute. I remember back in 1990, there was a similar live anniversary special that was a combination of classic sketches, cameos from past cast members, and more. I had hopes last night would be all of that, x2.
The first indication that all was not right with the world was the opening performance by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. Normally two bright spots in the SNL universe, the duo presented a monotonous and unimaginative musical number, rattling off past SNL characters and sketches so quickly only the most fervent fan could catch even half of the references.
Unfortunately, that was indicative of the entire special. Instead of sprinkling the night with classic clips (of which there were 40 YEARS to choose from!), footage of past sketches was, in most cases, diminished to one-to-two-second snatches, not even giving an unfamiliar viewer an inkling of what made the characters or sketches funny in the first place. It seemed they hired a hair-metal music video editor from the 1980s to mash together tiny little blips of sketches…they deserved better; many of them have become part of the American tapestry.
In some cases, classic sketches were reenacted by past cast members. Most of the time, these were painful to watch, as aging comedians rehashing old skits were devoid of any charm or humor. During a Weekend Update segment (with the welcome addition of Jane Curtin joining the always-great Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), celebrities performed imitations of their favorite SNL characters. To say that segment was sad and embarrassing would be an understatement.
Speaking of celebrities who were never cast members…most of the multitude of past writers and performers were at the event, so WHY was so much time given to people who maybe only hosted once or twice? Taylor Swift’s terrible performance just made a too-long and unfunny “Californians” sketch excruciating, and did we really need a question-and-answer section between Jerry Seinfeld and the audience? Again, a good hour of filler (and bad filler, at that) could have been replaced with classic clips.
Even past cast members often looked stilted, awkward and uncomfortable, as if they weren’t sure what they were doing there. Following their presentations, both Chevy Chase and Eddie Murphy openly criticized the fact the cameras didn’t cut to commercial at the correct time.
Since the very first year, both the commercial parodies and the digital shorts have been favorites among viewers. Once more, they were all but ignored, with three vastly inferior commercial parodies shown. 40 YEARS! You had 40 YEARS of gut-busting clips to choose from! And a new digital short from Andy Sandberg and Adam Sandler, dedicated to show bust-ups, was…well, it was just BAD.
And let’s talk about the music. In four decades, SNL has featured top performers in every imaginable genre, and the musical acts have become as iconic as the guest host. Talented musicians, including singer/songwriters such as James Taylor, Adele, David Bowie, Prince and Willie Nelson have graced the stage throughout the years…so WHY did the anniversary special feature performances from MILEY CYRUS and KANYE WEST???
Really??? Without even going into just how awful the Kanye performance was, Paul Simon and Keith Richards were THERE in the BUILDING and AVAILABLE. Instead of pandering to sales totals, regardless of musical integrity or ability, this was a perfect opportunity to have a true “supergroup” performance with 70s, 80s and 90s icons playing together, not a tired cover song from Miley or Kanye lying on his back, flubbing his hoarse-voiced rapping. A live performance of “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney was the one redeeming moment.
A highlight of the 15th anniversary back in 1990 was remembering Gilda Radner and John Belushi, a heartwarming series of clips that truly showed the genius of two comedic talents gone too soon. I was looking forward to seeing what they were going to do this time with Phil Hartman, Chris Farley and Jan Hooks. Instead, the tribute last night was a hammy, heavy-handed and generic list of cast and crew who have passed. It was quick and not touching…just cheesy.
In all, it seemed the special was really just a party for the cast (complete with in-jokes discussed live, with the audience left out of the loop), not a retrospective for the loyal viewers. For most of the 3 ½ hours, it was like suffering through a bad episode from 1981 (or 1991), and you couldn’t help but think those behind the event truly are “not ready for prime time.”
Guess I’ll just dig out my old DVDs and remind myself what made SNL great. Last night’s special sure didn’t do it.