By Kate Joseph
“Saturday Night Dead”: That was number eight on Wayne and Garth’s (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) “Top Ten Things About SNL” in a revival of Wayne’s World, the classic SNL sketch, on this weekend’s SNL 40th anniversary special.
For years the show has garnered increasing criticism for lacking laughs and originality, but Sunday night’s 3.5 hour broadcast brought life back into the ailing program.
Typically, SNL opens cold with a sketch dealing with politics or current events, but this show kicked off with a musical celebration of SNL’s greatest moments. The number, performed by five-time host Justin Timberlake and “Tonight Show” host and SNL alum Jimmy Fallon, immortalized the countless characters and catchphrases that have become synonymous with the late-night comedy. Although Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer stopped by to remind the duo that opening the show with a musical number would most likely result in a swift ratings drop soon after, the show didn’t lose steam.
Next up, comedian and 15-time host Steve Martin addressed the crowd, a myriad of SNL greats packed into studio 8H, with a monologue, and was shortly joined by other former hosts Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Paul McCartney, Melissa McCarthy, Paul Simon, Miley Cyrus, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, and Peyton Manning.
Between montages of classic sketches and celebrity appearances, the following three hours of SNL40 showcased live sketches, monologues, and musical performances from Sia, Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, and Paul McCartney.
Former cast members Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, and Norm Macdonald, as well as three-time host Jim Carrey, returned for another absurd round of Celebrity Jeopardy.
In a quick turnaround and true waste of talent, former cast members Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, and Larraine Newman, and past hosts Taylor Swift, Betty White, and Bradley Cooper gave little to a sleepy “The Californians.” This was one instance in which the special relied too heavily on the turnout of famous faces, and less on creating something smart and memorable.
Eddie Murphy, a former cast member and one-time host, also stopped by 30 Rock for the first time in thirty years. Despite an electrifying tribute from Chris Rock to welcome the comedian, his appearance was disappointingly short and awkward.
The show picked up once SNL royalty Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Jane Curtin took their places once again at the Weekend Update desk. The only three women to host the mid-show newsbreak (excluding Cecily Strong, who co-hosted during season 39) brought back the classic wit and charm audiences have been deprived of since Seth Meyers left his spot on Update to host Late Night one year ago.
The ladies also welcomed guests Emma Stone, as Gilda Radnor’s Rosanne Roseannadanna, Melissa McCarthy, as Chris Farley’s Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker, and Edward Norton, as Bill Hader’s Stefon, as well as Bill Hader, as his own Stefon, along with his tuxedo-clad “husband” Seth Meyers.
Another highlight of the broadcast was a digital short, introduced by Zach Galifianakis donning a Sia wig, starring Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler performing a rock ballad about “breaking.”
Referencing classic moments where cast members broke character and gave in to giggles on live TV, as well as a perfectly quick tribute to creator Lorne Michaels, the pre-taped number was one of the best parts of the special and its hilarious history.
A montage of audition tapes from cast members old, new and never-were (Stephen Colbert, Jim Carrey, and Kevin Hart were among those who didn’t make the cut) was both amusing and sentimental.
The special was certainly filled with laughs, but a memoriam honoring late cast and crew elicited cheers and tears for names like Jim Belushi, Phil Hartman, Gilda Radnor, Chris Farley, and Jan Hooks. The mood in the studio also hit a somber note when Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin honored friend and co-star Tracy Morgan, who is still recovering from a car accident this summer.
Paul Simon played out the show with “Still Crazy After All These Years,” a sentiment that echoes both SNL’s long run and insane devotion to churning out more than 20 live shows each year.
The show returns for a regular, but most likely just as crazy as ever, broadcast on Feb. 28 at 11:30 p.m. on NBC with host Dakota Johnson.