I would imagine a few of my loyal readers, who share my pop culture obsessions, pulled the site up the last couple days anticipating a break down of the SNL 40 special.
My apologies for the delay. I was unable to watch live, and basketball viewing obligations got in the way Monday. But I was finally able to watch most of it Tuesday night and then finish up this morning. So, thoughts!
Overall, I really enjoyed the show. It was a tough balance to strike, and I think Lorne Michaels, et. al. did a decent job getting it right. They couldn’t show clips for 210 minutes (minus commercials). Nor could they just have extended monologues or group discussions. So, they went with the traditional format of the show and blew it up to giant size. A cold open. A super monologue. Live sketches. Four live musical performances. Several live sketches. Celebrity cameos. And clips. Lots of clips.
It wasn’t perfect, but I laughed a lot – at both the old and new stuff – and was often at least smiling if not laughing.
The thing that stuck me about the show was how did they manage the celebrity logistics of the evening. Who gets to actually perform vs. who just gets to stand on stage? Who gets extended camera time vs. a brief moment to introduce the next segment? And how did they choose which of the non-cast members in the crowd got TV time as well? The simple act of planning out a 3 1/2 hour show must have been a nightmare, between writing the live pieces and picking the taped segments from 40 years of material. But managing the egos and expectations of everyone invited must have been the toughest part of the evening.
I’ve saved several articles written after the special to Instapaper that I have not read yet. So if I’m repeating things others have said, it is because we are of like minds rather than me copying them.
On to the bullet points:
- The cold open made a ton of sense, to the point of being predictable. But like so much of the night, it was amazing to think about the process of picking what characters, sketches, and catch phrases would get name checks in the opening act of the night. Lorne Michaels famously has a large board on his office wall where they organize each week’s show. How did they track things over the course of this one, making sure they didn’t skip anyone or reference a particular sketch too many times? Was there a wall on a warehouse somewhere where each reference was carefully noted and cross-referenced?
- While watching the cold open, I realized that Jimmy Fallon is, arguably, one of the biggest, most successful SNL alums. Which amazes me. When he first showed up on SNL, he seemed like he was just ripping off much of what Adam Sandler did, going on Weekend Update and playing his guitar. Over time it became apparent that he had more range than Sandler did, but he never seemed like he was the guy poised to break out. He couldn’t stay in character, he generally was a supporting element of sketches, and even when he moved to co-host of Weekend Update, he seemed like an outlet for Tina Fey’s writing. Yet here he is, host of The Tonight Show, getting great ratings. I never watched his old show, nor have I watched The Tonight Show since he took it over. But I’ve almost always enjoyed the clips that turn up on YouTube. You never know, I guess.
Like the cold open, I really enjoyed the monologue. Well, up to a point. It seemed a little long and a little big. And I think the focus waned as it went on. But I enjoyed the point being made.
I skipped through most of the musical performances, watching just the first 30 seconds or so of each. The contrast in performers was interesting. Paul McCartney and Paul Simon have been favorites of and friends to Michaels since the show began. It was no surprise that they were on. Being countered by Miley Cyrus and Kanye West seemed odd at first. Two exceptionally conservative choices with two rather daring choices. But McCartney and Simon were forces that changed music in their heydays. They weren’t shocking in the same way that Miley and Kanye are, but still they altered the structure of the music, and pop culture, worlds. Whether Miley and Kanye stand up the passing of time remains to be seen. But I think they embody the idea of challenging the status quo that Lorne Michaels always wanted the show to put forward. You could argue that Taylor Swift, who was on stage but did not sing, is more in line with the mainstream pop that McCartney and Simon represent. But, as good as her music is, she’s not challenging anything. She’s safe where Miley and Kanye are daring and controversial.
Speaking of McCartney, man, age has finally hit him hard. There’s a sad, tired, old man’s face hidden behind all the tucks and injections. And that hair. Positively Trump-esque. How far back on his head does that comb-over begin? And his voice is notably weaker than it was just a few years ago. But, still, when he walks on stage, you can’t help but get a jolt. That’s Paul Fucking McCartney!
I enjoyed the live sketches that were new much more than the rehashes of old stuff. Dan Aykroyd clearly had a lot less stimulants in his system than he did when he first did the Super Bass-o-matic commercial. And I did not like the bits on weekend update where actors did their favorite characters from the past at all.
But Jeopardy was pretty great. It pretty much always has been, in every form, but its highest moments were when Will Farrell was Alex Trebek. The way he struggles to hide his rage at the contestants was always fantastic.
It cracked me up that one of the first commercial breaks was from the current State Farm campaign with Hans and Franz. Throw in a commercial for an upcoming Ferrell flick and a Parks and Recreation promo and there were at least three commercials featuring SNL alums.
As I was fast-forwarding through commercials, I had to go back and watch the one with Jon Hamm for Red Nose Day. I wasn’t sure if that was a real commercial or some new, fake commercial. Interesting timing, as I bet it got a lot more attention from people who were thinking like me than it normally would have received.
The reaction to Chevy Chase’s introduction was noticeably muted. Is there anyone he hasn’t pissed off over the past 40 years? He looked kind of terrible, too.
Robert DeNiro was awful. Jack Nicholson and Christopher Walken were wasted. Amazingly, Keith Richards had the best moment of the night from the “very old guys who Lorne loves and get 30 seconds on stage” category.
I was a little surprised when Martin Short came out to host a segment. He was a cast member for only one year, although that was a pretty great year. When he hosted, many years later, he was great. But still, it seemed odd for him to get a long stretch in front of the camera. AND THEN HE FUCKING STOLE THE SHOW. He was phenomenal. He and Maya Rudolph destroyed in their segment about musical acts. Great writing, better performances.
“We’re about to flip you the funk bird.” The argument for Will Ferrell as greatest ever cast member largely stems on his longevity. You forget how many great characters he had.
So we knew Eddie was coming back. All us who grew up on his era could not wait to see what happened when he got on stage again. That said, I figured, in the back of my mind, that it would be a disappointment. Children of the 80s wanted Buckwheat and James Brown Hot Tub Party and Velvet Jones and Mr. White all wrapped up into an epic, five-minute performance. That was not fair or realistic. Instead we got a fawning introduction by Chris Rock, and then an awkward moment on stage by Eddie. My first thought, when it was over, was, “They must have promised him a Sinatra-sque introduction and no requirement to perform to get him to finally come back.” What a shame.
Eddie’s appearance became even more awkward when Jerry Seinfeld killed it moments later. He didn’t quite reach the highs that Martin Short hit, but he was still great. And the back-and-forth with Larry David was just terrific.
It’s not an official media event if Peyton Manning isn’t involved. And props to him for getting seated next to Catherine Zeta Jones, who still has it going on.
Very nice shout out to the still-recovering Tracy Morgan by Mr. and Mrs. Alec Baldwin, errrr, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. Perfectly toned and presented.
I didn’t put a clock on it, but it seemed like “White Like Me” got one of the longest clips of the night. Which makes sense. It was such a great piece, easily one of the best in the history of the show.
The obligatory salute to cast and crew members who have died was excellent. Including people who were (mostly) behind the camera was a very nice touch, especially since their faces elicited such noticeable reactions from the people in the studio who had worked with them. And the Jon Lovitz thing was the perfect final touch. It said “We’re serious, but we’re not that serious.”
Closing out the night was Wayne’s World, which also hit all the right notes. The look of mock terror on Mike Myers face when Kanye acted like he was coming on stage the second time was brilliant. Myers has been involved in some Kanye shenanigans before. The Lorne Michaels entry in the top ten was another moment where they both honored the show, and Michaels, while making fun of the pageantry of the night at the same time. There was a lot of inside baseball in Myers’ and Carvey’s lines during that bit, but it was still all great.
Finally, the closing credits with the cast crammed onto the stage. I wondered how much jockeying there was for spots near the front, and near Lorne. Did the director or a producer place everyone, or was it a free-for-all? Lot of egos and Lorne/daddy issues in that moment. And I paused and looked, but I could not find Eddie anywhere. Maybe I just missed him in the crush.
So, 40 years down. I almost wondered, as I watched, if this was an ending, too. Would Lorne look at what he’s managed over four decades, think of his age and the other shows he’s producing, and perhaps think it was time to close the show down after this season? I think likely not. By all accounts, he still burns more for SNL than his other ventures. He’s in good health, as far as we know. I think those thoughts are a bit premature. But the end isn’t too far off, and from everything I’ve read the show will likely end when he decides he has had enough.
I’ve rarely watched the show since Ferrell left, although when I catch a clip show (like the recent Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day specials), I enjoy the segments that feature current/recent cast members. It’s still nice to know it’s there, though, and that as long as it continues, there will be reruns on at 10:00 pm Eastern on Saturdays with the occasional clip show in regular prime time.