Awesome Music: In the second season episode broadcast on Oct. 2, 1976, the musical guest was singer Joe Cocker. At one point, he started singing "Feelin' Alright". Then, for the second verse, he was joined by John Belushi...as Joe Cocker. The result was a highly memorable duet.
Channing Tatum's first time hosting (who actually was a stripper for a year before becoming an actor), the monologue especially. The only non-stripper bits people remember from this episode is the Newt Gingrich: Moon President cold opening and the Weekend Update segment with Kristen Wiig as Lana Del Rey trying to defend herself against claims that her performance on SNL was a disaster because of her atonal caterwauling and inability to move around.
Inverted in the monologue as Tatum (the stripper) remembers all of his customers (an allegedly religious woman named Denise, a married woman named Bridget [whom Tatum remembers as "Flithy Bridget" because of all the filthy things she would ask for], a man named Leslie [who ends up dying when Tatum uses his stripper moves to refresh his memory], and Leslie's doctor, Dr. Matthews), much to their chagrin.
The episode hosted by Alec Baldwin and his wife at the time Kim Basinger on February 12, 1994 will forever be remembered as the episode that had the "Canteen Boy Gets Molested" sketch (and the episode after that, hosted by Martin Lawrence, will be remembered for Martin's raunchy monologue about women's hygiene [which was so tasteless, it nearly got everyone on the show fired and is often cut in reruns and replaced with title cards explaining the gist of the monologue and why it can't be shown on TV anymore]).
Every season after the first five years has a Broken Base (save for the seasons that were universally bad — season 6, season 11 note though it does have some fans, if only for Dennis Miller as Weekend Update anchor, and much like season 6, is viewed today as "It sucks, but it's not as bad as everyone else says.", and season 20).
The Andrew "Dice" Clay episode, which got a ton of controversy from them even picking Dice Clay to host it (hell, it even was one of the deciding factors for Nora Dunn to not seek contract renewal, as she was the most disgusted by the personality Clay is known to have). It was a polarizing choice for both the cast and fans for the penultimate episode of the 15th season. This is ironic because a good bit of fans seemed to have mixed feelings about Dunn, and there have been stories about how she was viewed by the cast (not to mention that she is somewhat still vocal about her time on SNL to this day, and some bad feelings still linger).
For Dick Ebersol, Eddie Murphy was his pet Up to Eleven, and he wasn't shy about letting you know that. SNL was basically the Eddie Murphy Show from Season 7 to 9 (until Murphy left). After that it became the Billy Crystal / Christopher Guest / Martin Short show. Ebersole definitely thought in terms of "This person/people are the lead(s), and everyone else is backup."
Follow the Leader: Norm MacDonald has admitted that "Celebrity Jeopardy" was inspired by the recurring "Half Wits" sketch on SCTV, but says that he got Martin Short's blessing before debuting it.
Fridge Brilliance: Hillary Clinton (the openly gay Kate McKinnon) noting to bartender Val (the actual Hillary Clinton) that they could've been quicker to promote LGBT rights.
Just Here for Godzilla: Most people who watch the show only watch it just to see one thing (be it a favorite sketch/recurring character/cast member/favorite host) and cite it as the main reason to watch the show. Weekend Update is commonly cited as the best example of this, since the simplicity of the sketch means it can be consistent even as the rest of the show wobbles.
Nostalgia Filter: As noted on the main page, those who grew up with the show are among the most vocal critics of its current shape. Also, because 60-minute cable reruns and video compilations have trimmed a lot of the weaker material from the older shows, it's easy to forget that even during its good seasons SNL had bad moments (from lousy hosts and musical guests to recurring characters and sketches that suffer from being underdeveloped and/or annoying — though this can apply to the stuff that people actually remember or have currently seen). The DVD box sets of uncut and complete seasons of the show, in the original order and from the beginning, may be helping to undercut this.
While the episode hosted by Donald Trump opened to terrible critical reviews and resulted in an Internet Backdraft, it was one of the more successful episodes in terms of ratings.
After Trump bashed the show for its Seinfeld Is Unfunny reputation due to an episode that parodied a debate during the 2016 Presidential Election, complete with a steady stream of Take Thats against him, the show's reputation ended up rising massively and finally broke out of said reputation. Under his very controversial presidency, the shows' newfound reputation continued to rise. Eventually subverted, however, as more and more viewers have begun seeing said Take Thats as Deader Than Disco, and the show's reputation has once again started to decline.
Pandering to the Base: When Bill Hader hosted the show in 2014, a new Puppetry 101 skit with his puppet Tony was done, as Bill had appeared on Howard Stern's show shortly before that episode, and Stern told him that the previous skit with Tony was his favorite of all time. Bill even hinted that Tony may make a comeback when he hosts, and even said if he did, people could thank Howard Stern for it.
The Pollyanna: Willie, Kenan Thompson's recurring character on Weekend Update. His whole shtick is recounting horrific memories of his life to Michael Che, his neighbor. And yet, he never once complains about them and is always so undyingly optimistic that you just want to give the guy a hug. Also counts as an Iron Woobie.
Lampshaded by Colin Quinn on the first episode in which he replaced Norm MacDonald in the Weekend Update sketches: "You know how you go to your favorite bar, and your local bartender isn't there? You ask, 'Where's Jeff?' 'Jeff no longer works here, I'm Steve.' Then you're thinking, hey, who's this idiot? I like Jeff. But you still want your drink. And even though Steve doesn't mix your drink the same way you're used to, like Jeff, you still like the bar. You don't want to have to go to a different bar. And even Steve might feel kinda bad because Jeff trained him. Jeff showed him how to work the cash register, where the tonic was on the soda gun, who tips, who doesn't. Well, I'm Steve. What can I get you?" Although he was not considered a replacement scrappy, he still was not very popular and didn't last long in the position before being replaced himself.
Retroactive Recognition: Did you know that Gilbert Gottfried was a cast member (and probably more jarring, Gottfried's voice had some semblance of volume control. You can hear the screechy, obnoxious voice he's currently known for, but for the most part at that time, Gottfried actually was soft-spoken)? How about Anthony Michael Hall (SNL's youngest cast member at 17 years old), Harry Shearer, Randy Quaid, Robert Downey, Jr. (his uncle is Jim Downey, a one-time feature player and a former writer on the show), Joan Cusack, Sarah Silverman (who sadly, wasn't given a chance to showcase her sweet, yet horribly un-PC humor when she was on SNL), Janeane Garofalo (who left the show due to backstage tensions and refuses to talk about her time on the show), Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ben Stiller, and Damon Wayans (who was fired from his short stint as feature player due to making a minor character he was playing sound Camp Gay, of which Lorne Michaels didn't approve. Coincidentally, that Camp Gay voice he used for his character is the same one he would later use on "In Living Color"'s "Men on Film" sketches)?
MADtv fans might be surprised to discover that Jeff Richards and Taran Killam (two feature players who only spent one year on MADtv before leaving) were/are on this show. Jeff Richards was on MADtv from 2000-01 before crossing over to SNL, where he stayed from 2001 to the early half of 2004. Taran Killam also appeared on MADtv in 2001 (becoming the youngest cast member on that show at age 19) and was let go a year later. Nine years after appearing on MADtv, he became one of four new feature players for SNL.
Killam had started in sketch comedy even before that, appearing as Spalding in The Amanda Show sketch "Moody's Point".
Yes, 1980s-1990s kids' show lovers. The Kenan Thompson who is on SNL is the same Kenan Thompson who was on Nickelodeon's All That and Kenan & Kel.
Featured player Kate McKinnon, much like Erica Ash on MADtv, used to be a cast member on Logo's The Big Gay Sketch Show and did voiceowrk on a lot of animated shows, including Ugly Americans and Robotomy (on Robotomy, she was the voice of Miss Crunshine, the Sunshine Class teacher).
Jim Cummings (voice actor for many of the cartoons you probably remember from your childhood: Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, Taz-Mania, Goof Troop, etc) voiced Gargamel on the TV Funhouse cartoon parodying The Smurfs and The Anna Nicole Show.
The Scrappy: Colin Jost, one of the current Weekend Update anchors. Unlike the other cast members, he only appears in Weekend Update and has drawn numerous criticism for being wooden and unfunny. When it was announced that the show was changing Weekend Update for the 40th season, people were thrilled... until it was revealed that they were removing Ensemble Darkhorse Cecily Strong from the desk and keeping Jost. His banter with Michael Che has been well-received, however.
Just like in the Nostalgia Filter entry, there are former fans who believe the show hasn't been the same since whenever the last time they saw it — usually, it's Seasons 1-5 (Fall 1975 to Spring 1980), but there have been other claims of when SNL started to seasonally rot, like when a fan favorite cast member (such as Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, etc.) leaves. The transitional periods between old casts and new ones are usually low periods, with Season 6 (1980-81), the first without any original cast members, widely considered the most disastrous in the show's history. Season 20 (1994-95) is also infamous due to the departure of Phil Hartman, reports of backstage tension between cast members, and the weak ideas for sketches (most of them were about the O.J. Simpson murder trial).
Season 11 from 1985-86 also counts, since this was when Lorne Michaels came back and tried to assemble a cast of semi-famous people to be cast membersnote Though Season 11 did have a few carryover cast that survived to season 12 (Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, and Dennis Miller. A Whitney Brown continued to be a "featured" cast member up to season 13, as well)., only to almost get canned due to plummeting Nielsen ratings. According to the book "Live From New York: The Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live", a lot of the staff (including Al Franken and then-future The Simpsons writer George Meyer) view Season 11 as terrible because the first episode hosted by Madonna wasn't well-received, which led to plummeting ratings and reviews stating that SNL's new cast at the time wasn't funny, the writing was too weird and thin, and the show as a whole has run its course and needed to end.
Season 35 is an unusual example in that it wasn't seen as too bad while airing, but several years later, the writing does seem very unusual and geared towards certain cast members (usually Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig). Some other seasons are usually seen as of low quality as well, such as seasons 28 (due to Jimmy Fallon's constant cracking up and the absence of Will Ferrell), 30 (had very mediocre political sketches during the 2004 election, the Ashlee Simpson lip-synching fiasco had people asking if the show was even live anymore, and everything just seemed kinda slow and dull. The upside of season 30 was that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did a good job on Weekend Update), 33 (but only because the Writers Guild strike caused a lot of potentially good episodes to go unwritten), season 38 (the Justin BieberValentine's Day Episode, too much reliance on Bill Hader and Fred Armisen), and (to some extent) season 39 (criticism for not having a more ethnically diverse cast, the sketch-writing quality is too unbalanced, pretaped sketches seem to dominate over the live ones, absence of Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, too many new cast members who aren't seasoned to be on the shownote though Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, Noel Wells, and Sasheer Zamata have been commended for their performances. John Milhiser is slowly improving, Colin Jost just started as a Weekend Update anchor, and not that many people care much for Mike O'Brien or Brooks Wheelan, though Brooks is starting to be featured more in sketches and not just as a background character. Basically, if a fan-favorite cast member leaves, then the show will go through what's called a "rebuilding season," which means that the show's humor quality will either be mixed to in the toilet. See "They Changed It, Now It Sucks" below.
Special Effects Failure: Zigzagged. SNL has always been known for flimsy sets, cheap costumes, and obvious Stock Footage (Lorne Michaels even said on an E! special about SNL's history that the show had this problem), especially in the 1970s and 1980s episodes. This doesn't happen so much in the episodes of the 1990s and 2000s, and the 20-Teens have been fairly good with the visual effects given the close deadlines, but it still does crop up occasionally. More recent seasons have occasionally added in bad Chroma Keying as well. Some sketches have used this and ended with the cheap set getting destroyed in some way.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks: The near-constant changing of writers and cast members is one of the most common reasons why fans have a love/hate relationship with the show.
Win Back the Crowd: After a long period of being seen as stale and worn-out, the show massively regained its lost popularity during the 2016 Presidential Elections and the Trump Administration, likely due to the heated political climate during the former and the massive controversy surrounding the latter. This in turn ended up getting the show its highest ratings in over 20 years. However, this has started to cause a Broken Base between the show's viewers. Many people have enjoyed the coverage of the extreme chaos of the Trump administration and find the skits hilarious, but there are also people who find anti-Trump humor in general to be stale and have tuned out as a result.
What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: A lot of SNL's sketches from the 1970s were drug-influenced (such as one that had an Abraham Lincoln portrait calling Richard Nixon a "dip.") and a lot of the writers and cast members at the time were high as kites. These days, the writers and cast members aren't like their 1970s counterparts (at worst, they get high from sleep deprivation in writing and planning the show; at best, some of the cast and crew members smoke weed, but only in their off-hours), but there are some crazy sketches and characters that seem like they're the product of a drug-influenced mind (Toonces, The Cat Who Can Drive a Car, Will Ferrell's impression of Harry Caray, Bill Hader's Stefonnote who is heavily implied to be on cocaine, meth, prescription pills, and possibly ecstacy, according to Bill Hader, just to name a few).