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Opinion: ‘SNL’ anniversary special delivers usual hits and misses

Bill Murray (right) returned to SNL Sunday to perform a fiction version of the 'Jaws' theme song. Credit: Screenshot of NBC.

Bill Murray (right) returned to SNL Sunday to perform a fiction version of the ‘Jaws’ theme song.
Credit: Screenshot of NBC.

On Sunday night, the “Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special” paid tribute to four decades of talent, characters and showbiz.

And, as a true tribute to SNL, there were some amazing parts, some mediocre parts and some parts that never seemed to end.

The 3 1/2 hour show was, for the most part, very pleasant. Just about every memorable living ex-cast member and recurrent host received screen time in some capacity, and many of the departed ones received a touching tribute.

Skits were brought back, legends of the show and younger talent got to work together and just about every monologue template was tried out by a different classic host. That included the classic singing and “audience” Q-and-A openings, the latter of which brought us some fantastic dialogue between Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

My favorite part of the night was Bill Murray bringing back his “Nick the Lounge Singer” character to perform the long-lost lyrical section of the “Jaws” theme song. Murray is an absolute legend of comedy, but he rarely gets the chance to cut loose and go all out these days. While many people don’t realize that he was not part of the original cast(he joined for the second season), he is synonymous with the talent that has emerged from the show, and it was great to see him performing again.

Another I was delighted to see was “Celebrity Jeopardy,” complete with Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek and Darrell Hammond’s foul-mouthed Sean Connery. There is not much to say here, other than that there has never been a subpar “Celebrity Jeopardy,” and this was no exception.

A final highlight was the “Weekend Update” desk, which featured the three women to sit at the desk for more than a season – Jane Curtin, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. While the actual news-reading portion was very forgettable, it was, as Update often is, the guests that made this great.

Emma Stone stopped by to give her impression of Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna character, which was extremely sweet as well as spot-on. Stone, despite born nearly a decade after Radner left the show and about six months before she passed away, was clearly still very influenced by her comedy and seemed to have a great time donning the big hair with pink clips.

Melissa McCarthy also dropped by to pay tribute to Chris Farley’s Matt Foley, which was touching but a pretty weak impression, andEdward Norton portrayed Bill Hader’s Stefon, which was neither a good impression nor heartfelt, and unlike Radner and Farley, who are no longer with us, Hader was indeed in the building and showed up as Stefon later in the bit.

However, it wouldn’t be SNL without the inclusion of parts of the show that make you wonder what in the world the writers were thinking.

I did not have a stopwatch, but I would guess that the longest skit of the night was “The Californians.” Or maybe it just felt that way.

I’ve never understood the appeal of that one at all, so it was befuddling to me why the program would choose that out of so much classic material to select from. While it was partially salvaged by great appearances from Laraine Newman, Bradley Cooper and Betty White, the latter two of whom shared a drawn-out kiss, this just didn’t seem worth picking out of 40 years of shows.

The same goes for Kanye West, who gave a lying-down (not a figure of speech) musical performance that spanned several minutes of NBA All-Star Game action (which is what I was watching after changing the channel once I saw Yeezy’s face).

With other performers such as Paul McCartney and Paul Simon performing throughout the night, one of those things was certainly not like the others. Well, Miley Cyrus didn’t really belong there either, but I thought her rendition of Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” sounded solid enough that I’ll give her a pass.

But the absolute rock bottom of the show was Eddie Murphy’s long-awaited return to 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

After a long-winded introduction from Chris Rock, Murphy stepped out to a great ovation, said thank you, and … that was pretty much it. He then stood there awkwardly as the director didn’t catch his cue to cut to commercial, eventually saying, “That’s all.”

Murphy had not appeared on the show in three decades, and it is easy to see why: The man clearly did not want to be there.

When you see how much some of the other former cast members clearly revere stepping in front of a camera and making the nation laugh, it is just as blatant that Murphy does not feel the same passion. Instead of doing his Buckwheat or James Brown, or delivering some stand-up material, or even just looking happy to be there for any reason other than people standing up and clapping for him, he let everyone down.

And for a guy who hasn’t had a funny role that didn’t feature an animated tail since the 20th century, that might not be the smartest move as he slips further into obscurity.

Overall, “SNL 40” was a great watch. At a whopping 210-minute runtime, I did have to stretch out a few times (that’s what musical performances and certain sketches on the regular show are for anyway, right?), but, hey, we might never see “Wayne’s World,” or Murray and Chevy Chase in the same room again.

I could’ve used more cowbell, though.

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