Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake kicked off the telecast with a delicious ditty featuring lyrics that crammed in dozens of hat-tips to the show’s most iconic sketches (Schweddy Balls, Mr. Bill, “Isn’t That Special,” even “Dick in a Box”). But Rachel Dratch’s mid-song appearance as Debbie Downer — “Sadly, history has taught us that opening the show with a musical number leads to a sharp drop in ratings” (womp-womp) — brought the biggest, most unexpected laughs.
Dan Aykroyd’s remake of his classic ad for the “Super Bass-O-Matic” — nothing more than a blender for raw fish, which can gleave you with quite a rush — was made all the more perfect by Laraine Newman reprising her fin-gulping testimonial.
We’re still giggling over the very welcome return of Celebrity Jeopardy — especially Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery reading “Who Reads” as “Whore Ads” and “Let It Snow” as “Le Tits Now” — but why replace Kate McKinnon’s spot-on Justin Bieber with Taran Killam’s unnecessary Christoph Waltz? Also, the whole sketch might’ve been better without the last 90-120 seconds, no?
Not to suggest Sir Paul McCartney is anything less than a living legend, but on a night devoted to celebrating NBC’s comedy flagship, did we need an entire five minutes devoted to a creaky rendition of “Maybe I’m Amazed”?
SNL inexplicably wasted Kerry Washington, Bradley Cooper, Taylor Swift and Laraine Newman in a very weak edition of the polarizing-at-best The Californians. But Betty White’s steamy, last-minute makeout session with Cooper saved the best (and perhaps only) laugh for last.
A reel of auditions tapes from way, way back as well as the more recent past not only showed us how the likes of Chevy Chase and John Belushi won over Lorne Michaels, or how baby-faced Amy Poehler was as a noob, but also glimpsed the try-outs from those fated not to call Studio 8H home, including Stephen Colbert and Kevin Hart.
WHAT A WEEKEND!
It was a Weekend Update-phile’s dream come true when onetime partners in fake newsreading Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were joined by that “ignorant slut” Jane Curtin, to relay SNL-related headlines as well as welcome celebs Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Melissa McCarthy as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Stefon and a desk-busting Matt Foley. The one segment that should have run longer.
What were Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig’s never-was and never-will-be funny Garth and Kat doing in the delightful calico-patchwork medley that brought us Maya Rudolph’s Beyoncé, Adam Sandler’s Opera Man, the Blues Brothers and even Steve Martin’s King Tut? (The tiny saving grace: Seeing actor Chris Lowell, with his ringside seat. chuckle throughout.)
The great Bill Murray, bless him, reeled in longtime viewers with a follow-up to his lounge singer’s take on the Star Wars theme, by putting words to another iconic 1970s film, Jaws.
BEVERLY HILLS COP-OUT
The time it takes you to read this sentence will about match the length of SNL alum Eddie Murphy’s well-hyped appearance. In fact, Chris Rock’s intro probably ran longer, seeing as all the erstwhile Gumby/Mr. Robinson came out to do was reap applause… yeah, and that’s about it.
Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler’s made-for-the-anniversary digital short music video — a tribute to when cast members “break” (out laughing) during a sketch — replayed many of the show’s most famous such instances, including that one with Fallon and Sanz, the one with Fallon and Sanz, and that classic one with Fallon and Sanz. This two-for-one special reminded us why shorts rock, and why giggle fits can be contagious.
For a show that doesn’t have the best history of representing women of color and their perspective, it felt peculiar to have a Q&A session with former SNL player Ellen Cleghorne asking Jerry Seinfeld “How many black women were on the Seinfeld show?” Seinfeld’s cheeky answer — “We did not do all we could do to cure society’s ills.” — missed the point by a country mile. SNL‘s 40th didn’t need to double as a referendum on comedic equality, but a single sketch with Cleghorne or current repertory members Sasheer Zamata or Leslie Jones at the center might’ve been nice, no?
We’re still debating, what was the bigger disservice by combining short films/digital shorts and fake ads into one montage: Getting barely recognizable fragments of the former, or the latter being deprived their own showcase?
The Pauls, McCartney and Simon, both have deep, rich SNL history, and Miley Cyrus (mainly as a spoof target but also as a performer) boasts a certain notorious history with the show. But why was Kanye West allowed to suck up any time with a random, muted performance?
MOST APT MUSICAL NUMBER
Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” was flawed — but beautifully so. Sure, the 73-year-old musician’s show-closing number wasn’t exactly in sync with SNL‘s irreverent spirit, but if you can’t be a little sentimental on your birthday, then when exactly can you be?
Coming out of a powerful and thorough In Memoriam montage that tributed talent SNL lost from both in front of and behind the camera, Bill Murray made sure to remind us, “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.”
MOST RELUCTANT PARTICIPANT
Executive producer Lorne Michaels — aka The Man Behind the Phenomenon — looked a little verklempt when he was called to the stage for the closing credits. Still, we couldn’t have imagined a better closing shot to the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast than Michaels, somehow isolated and looking outward, as dozens of show grads and hosts embraced one another around him.