Probably the most awesome thing about SNL is the fact that the show has been on the air for nearly 40 years, survived many things that would have taken down lesser shows (Executive Meddling, Seasonal Rot, cast and crew changes, weak writing, controversial moments, criticism over racial and gender equality in the cast, and fickle fans), and, for better or worse, is considered great entertainment, and has adapted to this current era, where people are finding their entertainment online and on cable rather than on free-to-air TV. On an E! special about the show's history, Lorne Michaels has stated that the show has lasted for as long as it has because it reinvents itself with talented cast members and writers.
Will Ferrell's character pretends to have a Vietnam flashback and ends up singing (and maraca-ing) the entirety of Goodnight Saigon. Violinists come in from nowhere, Green Day casually steps into the background, and by the end of the sketch Ferrell's accompanied about fifty other people (celebrities, the whole cast [at the time], previous cast members, famous hosts, one of which was Artie Lange from the original cast of MADtv, which had reached the last episode at the time of the season 34 finale of SNL) singing with perfectly straight faces and doing various ridiculous things like playing along on unplugged Guitar Hero controllers. There's the sense that everyone turned out because Ferrell's a legend — they all walk offstage at the end one by one as the song tapers off. It's so overdramatic that it breaks the walls of Narmy and Silly entirely and loops back around to Epic. It's already listed on the main page as Crowning Music of Awesome, but this is also what a Moment of Awesome looks like.
Speaking of Tom Hanks, his showing up during a Celebrity Jeopardy skit, playing an utterly moronic version of himself, prompting Trebek (Will Ferrell) to sadly comment, "I had such high hopes for you"
The first live show after the 9/11 attacks, with host Reese Witherspoon and musical guest Alicia Keys. After honestly paying tribute to the rescue people by bringing them on stage, Lorne Michaels talks with then-Mayor Rudy Guliani. The following exchange may not seem like much now, but really went far in breaking the unease over the "Is it Too Soon to relax a little while still remaining respectful for the lives lost?" feeling everyone was going through:
Lorne Michaels: Can we be funny?
Mayor Guliani: Why start now?note Though that can also be taken as a burn against the commonly-held belief that SNL either never was funny or it used to be funny, but it fell off years ago and is only around as lat-night filler, but given the context the quote was in, it was more of a rallying call for America to try and regroup after 9/11, but remember the lives lost and the people who tried to help that fateful day
What really makes this awesome is how Giuliani says the opening catchphrase: "Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!".
Elvis Costello returning to the show after being banned following his gig on the Christmas 1977 show (hosted by an old woman named Miskel Spillman, who won a contest where viewers got to pick an average person to host an SNL episode) where he played "Radio Radio" (which, at the time, was rejected for being anti-media). His return, taking place on the show's 25th Anniversary special, consisted of sabotaging the Beastie Boys' performance of "Sabotage" before they all played a rendition of Costello's "Radio Radio".
In one of Buck Henry's episodes, John Belushi accidentally cut his forehead with his very real samurai sword towards the end of the "Samurai Stockbroker" sketch. After the commercial break, Henry appeared with a bandage over the cut. The show lampshaded the incident by having all the other cast members wear identical bandages on the same spot for the remainder of the show, as well as writing up a quick "newsstory" for Weekend Update: "Buck Henry was attacked with a sword by a coked-out John Belushi on a late-night comedy sketch show."
This exchange by Chris Farley and Paul McCartney:
Chris Farley: Uh...remember when you were in The Beatles? And, um, you did that album Abbey Road, and at the very end of the song, it would...the song goes "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make"? You...you remember that?
Paul McCartney: Yes.
Farley: Uh...is that true?
McCartney: Yes, Chris. In my experience, it is. I find, the more you give, the more you get.
Farley (ecstatic, starts to point at Paul and mouth "AWESOME!"): Well, that's it for this week's show...
September 28, 1991. The Reverend Jesse Jackson (appearing as himself, as opposed to being impersonated by a cast member) reads "Green Eggs and Ham" in honor of Dr. Seuss, who had just passed away. He did it in the speaking manner he would have used were he speaking about racial injustice, or delivering a sermon.
Betty White hosting the Mother's Day episode in 2010 all thanks to a Facebook campaign. It's considered one of the best current episodes of the series.
They also brought in an All-Star Cast of SNL's best female cast members, including Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer.
The Ed Helms/Paul Simon episode — home to, not only the brief return of the TV Funhouse cartoon segments, but to the live-action version of The Ambiguously Gay Duo (featuring Jon Hamm as Ace, Jimmy Fallon as Gary, Steve Carrell as Big Head, Stephen Colbert as Dr. Brainio, Ed Helms [the episode host] as a Two-Face-esque villain, and Fred Armisen as a lizard man). Also a Negated Moment of Awesome, as Robert Smigel confessed during an interview with AV Club in 2010 that this was supposed to be one of many feature films based on a recurring character from SNL.
From the May 14, 2005 show hosted by Will Ferrell, Queens of the Stone Age performing "Little Sister" with backup from Gene Frenkle, Will Ferrell's character from the legendary Cowbell skit.
Colin Quinn's opening speech from his first time hosting Weekend Update After Norm MacDonald was fired, comparing himself to a new bartender who was hired in place of an old favorite who was recently terminated.
The musical performance from December 1998. Vanessa Williams, Luciano Pavorotti, and the Harlem Boys Choir delivering a GLORIOUS rendition of "O, Come, All Ye Faithful", sung in Latin and English.
The hiring of Kenan Thompson, the first SNL cast member to be born after SNL premiered and the first one to have gotten his start on a kids' show (specifically, a Nickelodeon one). It's a culmination of sorts, since he has a strong resume, and many kids of the 80's and 90's who grew up watching him in some capacity areawareofhiswork. Sadly, Kel Mitchell (his comedy partner and friend from the days when Kenan did kids' shows) was also considered, but was passed up for another cast member with the last name of Mitchell (a stand-up comic named Finesse Mitchell). If Kel Mitchell got hired instead of Finesse, the audience who grew up with Kenan and Kel on All That would be tuning in to see Kenan and Kel in sketch comedy again.
In November of 2009, Joseph Gordon-Levitt performed an homage to Donald O'Connor's performance in Singin' in the Rain, pulling off an energetic performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" — complete with the two backflips off the walls.
Also, the second time he hosted, when he recreated the "It's Raining Men" sequence from the movie, Magic Mike.
The entire 1992 Presidential campaign, with Dana Carvey pulling double duty as both Bush Senior and Ross Perot. The high water mark of political satire the show ever pulled off.
Big Bird's appearance on the Daniel Craig/Muse episode. Made more awesome by the fact that they didn't have to write anything dirty or outrageous for him to be funny; they just let him be his childlike self.
Bruno Mars pulling off a decent SNL episode, despite the fact that he admitted in the monologue that he's never done comedy or acting of any kind.
Jimmy Fallon's musical performance at the beginning of his episode. The entire cast of SNL dancing stands out in particular.
Fallon admitting that his Corpsing ruined a lot of sketches. It's awesome because he admitted and embraced a fault that made a lot of people hate him when he was on the show.
From the same episode, the Weekend Update where Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Fallon and Seth all go against each other in the Joke-Off. Poehler's entrance in particular generated much applause.
So much so that when Fey enters immediately after her, even though she can be seen mouthing phrases like "It's on!", it's nearly impossible to hear her because the applause was so loud.
Really, Fallon's performance all throughout the episode can be considered its own Crowning Moment. After so many years of people deriding him for his Corpsing, he ended up returning to participate in one of Season 37's most-acclaimed episodes. In his A.V. Club review, David Sims comments that Fallon's infectious energy that annoyed people during his tenure on the show actually served him well as a host, as it helped to spread an atmosphere of fun and excitement. It's as though Fallon's hosting allowed him to come full circle with SNL, especially when one recalls the Call Forward Alec Baldwin made in 1998 (he accurately predicted (as a joke) that Fallon would host the Christmas episode of 2011). To cap it all off? Fallon won an Emmy for "Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series" in 2012 thanks to the episode.
Steve Martin sings "King Tut". In fact, that episode - which had the Blues Brothers performing as musical guest, Martin wordlessly dancing terribly with Gilda Radner, and classic appearances of Theodoric of York and the Wild And Crazy Guys - was considered and probably still is one of the best nights the show ever produced.
"Lazy Sunday". The day after it aired, it blew up the Internet, made YouTubethe must-visit video site (before NBC made their deal with Hulu) with thousands scurrying to watch what everyone else was hailing as "awesome," and, most importantly, got SNL out of the slump it was in from 2002 (when Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer left) to late 2005 (when Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Kristen Wiig were brought in and when Jason Sudeikis went from being a writer to being a cast member).
The final Janet Reno Dance Party sketch, with the real Janet Reno making a surprise appearance. Janet Reno actually flew out on her last day in office to specifically appear in the bit. The best thing about the appearance, and the sketch as a whole, is that Janet Reno loved the entire sketch, as she said that it caused young people to approach her and ask her about it, giving her a brand new audience.