By: OLIVIA VARNSON
(Gainesville, Ga.) — NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” series celebrated its 40th anniversary with a television special on Sunday, Feb. 15. Competing with the National Basketball Association’s “All-Star Game,” the special raked in 23.14 million viewers during its three-and-a-half hour timeslot. It is the most popular television special since 2006.
In the weeks leading up to the special, the cast and crew remained highly secretive. It paid off, as millions of viewers tuned in and were surprised to see cast members and other celebrities that had not appeared on SNL in decades.
The first skit, however, featured two guests who likely came as no surprise to current viewers. Former cast member Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, a frequent celebrity guest host, teamed up with an opening rap paying tribute to various sketches, setting the stage for the names and characters audience members could expect to see throughout the night.
Perhaps the favorite skit of the night was the “Jeopardy” parody starring former cast member Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek. It was a call back to a popular sketch during Ferrell’s run on SNL. The sketch first made an appearance on Dec. 7, 1996. While Ferrell “hosts” the segment as Trebek, various cast members and celebrity guests don alternate celebrity personas. In this special edition, those personas included Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett and Matthew McConaughey as Jim Carrey.
Bill Murray returned to reprise a classic lounge-singer character, Nick Ocean, who would improvise romantic lyrics over dramatic movie soundtracks. This time around, Murray dedicated his love song to a great white shark, singing about love over the iconic theme from “Jaws.”
The special also featured musical performances from Paul McCartney with “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and Miley Cyrus covering Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Simon himself helped to end the show with a song that captured the spirit of SNL in a few simple words, “Still Crazy After All These Years.” While some audience members had hoped the cast would take advantage of the massive comedic talent pool to produce new content, most were pleased to see a well-rounded tribute of the material that carried SNL through 40 years of social commentary, parody and laughter.