Brief thoughts on #SNL40

Other people are probably going to write more extensively about tonight's SNL 40th Anniversary special, so I'll leave it to them, but I'll say my piece about a few things:

Most of the show was entertaining; the clip montages were well-chosen and edited, and it was good to see the lesser-celebrated Doumanian and Ebersol years get more "deep cuts" covered in the highlight reels, as opposed to the same Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo clips they normally rely on.  

The music performances weren't bad; nothing on par with Prince doing "Electric Chair" at the 15th anniversary or the Eurythmics and Al Green medleys at the 25th. Miley Cyrus doing "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" was surprisingly good, though.  

Jane Curtin doing Weekend Update with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler was a highlight, and she killed it with her Fox News joke. She was always the secret weapon of the original years, or at least the one hidden in plain sight.  

The biggest misstep of the night was the Californians sketch, which didn't seem to play too well in studio. Despite the participation of Laraine Newman and cameos from Bradley Cooper, Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift and Betty White, the sketch dragged.  David Spade posted a close-up of the script on Instagram earlier, which revealed this was the handiwork of James Anderson and Kent Sublette; for all I know they may be wonderful people, but this was all too typical of their other work on the show*.  The same could be said for Garth and Kat, which ground the pacing of the "salute to musical sketches" segment to a halt.

The "In Memoriam" montage was well-done, but I noticed a few glaring omissions:

  • Joe Bodolai (writer, 1981-82)
  • Nelson Lyon (writer, 1981-82)
  • Mark O'Donnell (writer, 1981-82)
  • Terry Southern (writer, 1981-82)
  • Alan P. Rubin (band, 1975-83)
  • Drake Sather (writer, 1994-95)
  • Mauricio Smith (band, 1975-79)

They may have kept to a "more than one season" rule for writers, but I found it odd they didn't count the other band members who have passed.  I believe there were also a few other crew and staff members that had been memorialized beforehand but not here.  That said, it was nice to see some others get their due.  I was most concerned that Charles Rocket, Danitra Vance, Michael O'Donoghue and Tom Davis would get short shrift, and was pleased to see they were counted.  The same goes for Don Pardo, Dave Wilson and Audrey Peart Dickman (from many accounts, she was the engine that kept the show running, production-wise). 

Other than those issues, the special served its purpose: it reminded the audience why this show (and it's history) is special, and it was good to see a lot of familiar faces again.  I hope everyone there had a good time (even Anderson and Sublette).

*A partial list of other Anderlette sketches this season: "Forgotten Television Gems", "Women In The Workplace", "Campfire Song", "Nest-presso", "Amy Adams Monologue", "Singing Sisters", "Soap Opera Reunion", "The Journey", "Casablanca".

Tom Davis and Nelson Lyon

Cancer claimed two former SNL writers this week.  Nelson Lyon, a writer for the 1981-82 season, died Tuesday of liver cancer at the age of 73.  Two days later, Tom Davis, one of the show's original writers and a returning contributor to the show following Lorne Michaels' re-arrival, succumbed to throat and neck cancer at 59.

Davis was a prominent figure in the show's history: he was responsible for many of the well-known sketches such as Coneheads, Final Days, and got more than a few complaints with his and Al Franken's Stunt Baby, X-Police, and First He Cries.  He appeared on camera fairly often through his tenure on the show, usually in tandem with Franken, and at one point landing "featured player" status with the other tenured writers for 1979-80; he also provided countless voiceovers for sketches.  He left with the original writers in 1980, then returned along with Lorne Michaels and Al Franken five years later.  Franken and Davis produced the poorly-received 1985-86 season (with Michaels as executive producer).  When Michaels took a more direct involvement with the show the following season, Davis was gone, but not for long: he rejoined the writing staff in January 1987 and stayed through the 1993-94 season.  Since then, he contributed sketches on 12 shows between 1997 and 2004, including "Leather Man" with Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz.

Lyon was more of a shadowy, underground figure; a collaborator of Michael O'Donoghue's, and probably known more for his sex comedy "The Telephone Book" and his association with John Belushi during his final days.  Lyon contributed to O'Donoghue's "At Home With The Psychos" (with Terry Southern and Rosie Shuster) and penned "The Mild One", an existential biker sketch featuring Bruce Dern.  He had a handful of on-camera appearances as well, as a prisoner, a bodyguard and Josef Stalin.  Lyon's impact on SNL may be less apparent than Davis', but as the basis for O'Donoghue's "Mr. Mike" and a key part of the unique tone of the 1981-82 SNL, it should not be underestimated.

Classic SNL Review: January 23, 1982: Robert Conrad / The Allman Brothers Band (S07E09)

Classic SNL Review: January 23, 1982: Robert Conrad / The Allman Brothers Band (S07E09)

Sketches include "The People's Court", "In The News", "Wild Wild Wild West", "Babies In Makeup", "Overexposure", "Battle Of The Week", "A Few Moments With Andy Rooney", "Nixon Vs. FDR", and "Sister". The Allman Brothers Band perform "Midnight Rider", "Southbound", and "Leavin'".

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