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In honor of last night’s SNL 40 special—which was actually quite good—we picked a question that gives us something to gripe about:
What else do you wish had been included in last night’s SNL 40 special?
How about Eddie Murphy doing literally anything? In the days leading up to the special, so much was made of Murphy’s three-decade absence from SNL, and speculation ran wild as to what he might do. And after Chris Rock teed up an introduction that hailed Murphy as the show’s true savior and an untouchable comedy icon, finally it was time for Murphy to come out and.... offer some generic, tranquilized platitudes about how returning was like going back to high school, then say thank you. In fact, the only laugh he got was an accidental (and gracious) one, thanks to some off-kilter timing with throwing to commercial. For all of Murphy’s talk lately about wanting to get back to his live comedy roots—whether it’s returning to stand-up, hosting the Oscars, or here, revisiting the show he once injected with so much energy and unpredictability—he continues to balk at every opportunity he’s given. No one’s asking him to put on the Gumby costume or Buckwheat wig, but just imagine the conversation we’d be having today if Murphy had deigned to appear in a single sketch—or even tell a joke.
SNL 40 really was an embarrassment of riches, so it feels weird to really say I missed anything, because I got so much more than I ever even expected. Still, I was a little bummed that Cecily Strong wasn’t included in the Weekend Update anchor rundown, because—well, I have no idea. Did they just forget? Is it because she’s a current cast member and it’s weird to say, “Well, we did like her in there, but then we bumped up some other dudes instead?” It especially feels glaring because the show’s actual tribute to Weekend Update was so lady-centric, what with its Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Jane Curtin, that Strong’s omission just felt purposeful. While I know she hasn’t made as much of a contribution to the segment as Fey, Poehler, or Curtin, it was kind of sad to see her just get written off as “that girl who guests as the girl you don’t want to talk to at a party sometimes.”
Like most Saturday Night Live retrospectives, SNL 40 cast its most intense spotlight on Lorne Michaels, the guy who’s always been there for the show (except for the five years when he wasn’t) and the guy whose tastes and instincts still determine what makes it to air and what doesn’t. Michaels is by all accounts a crowd-pleaser, so I don’t know why I was hoping for stronger representation from my favorite part of SNL: The 10-to-1 slot, those last 10 minutes of any given episode when the show tests out its most conceptually adventurous and potentially disastrous material. I was pleased to see the Bill Brasky Buddies, Bear City, and the Former Porn Stars work their way into separate segments, but a concentrated dose of 10-to-1 weirdness would’ve shooed off the sense of fatigue that settled over the final minutes of the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast. This was a night for greatest hits, not deep cuts, but even a stickler like Lorne should be able to recognize sketches like “Birthday Song” as SNL’s secret greatest hits—especially when there was room afforded to Wayne’s World, the 10-to-1 slot’s biggest success story.
They managed to gather a pretty eclectic bunch of people for the event, which likely made for some fantastic backstage conversation. I feel there was a missed opportunity to have someone behind the scenes to capture some of the night’s odd pairings and maybe find some moments of off-the-cuff hilarity. One of my biggest joys during the show was scrolling through SNL’s Instagram and seeing snapshots of some of the strange bedfellows that met up through the night (A picture of George Lucas and Bobby Moynihan particularly piqued my interest). They could’ve capitalized on a recurring backstage correspondent segment, checking in on the stars as they grab a drink and brush shoulders with one another, wedging themselves between Bill Murray and Bill Hader just to see what those two were even talking about. Yes, this type of forced chat is often boring on the red carpet, but this is a bunch of liquored-up improvisors we’re talking about, it could’ve added some great moments of spontaneity to the whole thing. Most of SNL’s current cast went unused for the night, so the correspondent role would’ve been a way to get some mileage out of Aidy Bryant or, better yet, it could’ve been the perfect setting for Kyle Mooney’s roaming-man-on-the-street character.
On the whole I was impressed with the way SNL 40 fit in so many callbacks, so I’m going to go ahead and make a purely selfish suggestion that the show should have included a reference to my all-time favorite sketch, Christopher Walken’s “Googly Eyes Gardener.” While both Walken and his far more famous cowbell sketch made an appearance last night, to me “Googly Eyes” is the perfect encapsulation of the absurd humor and deadpan delivery that made Walken such an iconic host. I love the way the sketch toes the line between funny and awkward, and if we’re being honest, that uneasy balance probably represents SNL far better than a collection of the show’s breakout hits. While I totally understand why the sketch didn’t make the final cut (and likely wasn’t even considered), another nod to SNL’s general weirdness might have been a nice touch.
It was probably always too much to hope for that they might give Gilbert Gottfried the stage for three or four minutes to wax nostalgic about the horror show that was the Jean Doumanian era of Saturday Night Live, but I would’ve gladly traded any of those live musical performance (save perhaps Paul Simon singing “Still Crazy After All These Years,” because it’s just too apropos) for a montage of 40 years of musical performances. I can still remember watching such a montage on one of the previous anniversary specials and being in awe of some of the people who’d appeared on the show in the past—Tom Waits! Squeeze! The Clash!—and given what a major part music has played on SNL over the decades, it seems like a major missed opportunity to skip out on such a reminiscence. Not that the look back at the music-themed sketches wasn’t great, but it’s just not the same as a montage that leaves you saying, “Holy shit, I can’t believe Captain fucking Beefheart was on the show!”
There are any number of perfectly reasonable, feasible things I would’ve liked to see on last night’s special (for example, just about everything everyone else has said so far), so I’m going to go totally pie-in-the-sky and say I would’ve liked to see Will Forte bring back Jeff Montgomery, the sex-offender character he played in two great sketches back in 2008. This weekend, while researching a piece I’m writing for my pop-culture blog on the worst recurring SNL characters, I got distracted by some of my non-worst favorites and discovered that (at least per some anonymous Wikipedia updater) two subsequent Jeff Montgomery sketches—including one with Dan Aykroyd as the character’s father—made it to dress, but were cut before air. It was hard not to think of that possibly-fabled Aykroyd/Forte sketch during last night’s hit-and-miss mash-up sketches, especially during typically overlong and pointlessly star-packed edition of The Californians (see also that worst-of list I’m writing). A Jeff Montgomery revival is probably more appropriate for “Second Chance Theater” on Seth Meyers’ SNL-obsessed incarnation of Late Night, but I would’ve loved to see Forte in full-on weirdo mode unleashed on an unsuspecting audience of mega-celebrities and alumni.
Instead of Lorne wheeling out his pal Paul Simon for yet another rendition of “Still Crazy After All These Years” or—dare I suggest—the cool but unrelated to anything else in the evening Kanye West performance, I would have loved if the “dead person montage” were extended to include an actual, complete sketch for every deceased performer or writer. (Plus, it would eliminate the “applause meter” measurement of how important the audience thought the dead people were, which is always distasteful and sort of creepy.) Bill Murray’s presentation of the montage was stellar, as one would expect (and his delivery of the final Franco joke was brilliant), but instead of the “quick pic and smatter of applause” tribute, I’d have gladly sat still for, say, Belushi’s “Dueling Brandos” with Peter Boyle, Gilda’s dream ballet with Steve Martin, Michael O’Donoghue doing his impression of Mike Douglas having steel spikes shoved in his eyes, the Franken & Davis Show where Franken has a brain tumor, and Jan Hooks’ brilliant performance opposite Alec Baldwin in the diner sketch. (Although if they wanted to combine Hooks and Phil Hartman for the “Life Is A Dream” sketch, I wouldn’t complain too much.) Poor Danitra Vance would mean a trip through the archives, but I’m sure they could find something. And what about a selection of Herb Sargent’s best political material from Update over the years? Critics can say what they want, but SNL 40 proved why the show and the people in it are still part of our cultural discourse—instead of tiny clips and headshots, showing the actual work of the departed cast would only have reinforced their part in it.