On Sunday, NBC's Saturday Night Live celebrated its 40th anniversary with a three-hour spectacular featuring cast members from its past four decades. Chevy Chase, Kristin Wiig, Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd and others joined up for the special.

Bob Thompson is the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. He joined Boston Public Radio Monday to give the SNL special high marks.

"I have become very cynical of these reunion shows," Thompson said. "This is the way they ought to be done."

Thompson likened the SNL anniversary show's success to the 1985 Motown 25th anniversary show featuring — among other things — Michael Jackson's famous moonwalk.

"This reminded me of that Motown 25th. [...] Everything moved like a house on fire, and even though it was three-and-a-half hours, I wish it had gone on longer."

Even though much of the SNL special was retrospective, performers still landed some well-timed punches. Jerry Seinfeld poked fun at NBC newscaster Brian Williams, who had just begun a six-month suspension after questions arose over his recollections of certain events.

"There are so many things about SNL that people don't know. I just found out that one of the original cast members in 1975 is Brian Williams. I don't know if that's true," Seinfeld joked.

"Turning Brian Williams into a punchline — I think that tells us everything we need to know about that storyline," Thompson said. He added it was "probably a safe assumption" Williams wouldn't return to NBC.

Thompson said the special evoked an SNL of past glory, and showed how much its impact has diminished.

"It was a very much of a certain age. [...] I was a sophomore or junior in high school [and] that show was so central to [my] identity. That was really the case with me. Kids are still seeing every now and again one of these digital shorts," Thompson said. He said the show was essential viewing from its beginning until the early 1990s.

One of the performers from those glory days, Eddie Murphy, returned Sunday to SNL for the first time in 30 years.

Murphy had famously held out on a return to the show on which he became a standout star. Thompson was underwhelmed by Murphy's performance.

"That was really disappointing because Chris Rock did that beautiful intro," Thompson said. "It was so endearing and all the rest, and then Eddie Murphy gets out there and it's almost like he's still mad at Saturday Night Live!"

Despite the shortness, Thompson thought the pace and skit selection were outstanding.

"That show just kept on moving, and I think usually those shows don't do that."

Last week Rolling Stone ranked all the SNL cast members over the show's 40 years, from last place (Robert Downey, Jr.) to number one (John Belushi).

"Will Ferrell just for pure versatility has to be pretty high up there," Thompson said. (Ferrell is ranked 12th.) "Belushi [...] represented the danger and the anarchy. All the stuff that is not television is what Belushi" brought to SNL.

Who tops Thompson's cast ranking, if not Belushi?

"Eddie Murphy I would definitely put near the top."

>> To hear the entire segment with Bob Thompson, click the audio above. Thompson is a regular Monday guest on BPR.