Hey, hey buddy…remember me? I’m your old pal Saturday Night Live. It’s been a while, huh? Remember all the great things I used to do? Remember how off-kilter, brave, and hilarious I used to be back in the 1970s and ’80s? Man, those were crazy times. My cast was high as a kite and encompassed some of the greatest comedy minds ever. Yeah, I know things have been kind of slow lately, but still, we did have some good times, didn’t we? Back in the day? Don’t forget me, man; you know you still love me.
That paragraph is a smart-assed way to poke fun at Live From New York!, a documentary film directed by Bao Nguyen that takes viewers through the 40 years of the show’s existence. While the film is fairly harmless and basically amounts to a fluff piece for one of the longest running TV shows in history, it’s hard for fans of SNL to not get a little nostalgic as the documentary moves along. I say that as one of the show’s biggest fans.
Yet as one of the biggest fans of Saturday Night Live, I often find myself disappointed in the show, especially as of late. And by “of late”, I mean the last 10 years or so. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of truly brilliant comedy or comedians (although there’s been a few) or the show’s insistence on being non-confrontational or if it’s just playing to a younger demographic, but like a lazy partner in a bad domestic relationship, I still watch it every week and rarely laugh. I’ve been watching it for over 30 years and it’s become habitual, which is kind of how I think the show’s creator Lorne Michaels feels as well.
I mention this because Live From New York! almost seems to know that the show has seen better days, which is what makes the whole documentary so … weird. While it does manage to highlight some of the show’s greatest moments, it never really goes deep, and as a result, it all feels a little needy. It’s as if Saturday Night Live really wants to remind you how awesome it was once upon a time, even though those days appear to be over. To be fair, I also didn’t really want to see a down and dirty exposé on the show. James Franco’s doc Saturday Night does a fine job getting behind the scenes on what it takes to create the show. That said, it’s hard to figure out what the point of Live From New York! is and what it’s trying to say.
Live From New York! is mostly talking head interviews. The film does a nice job covering cast members from all 40 years. There’s lots of Lorne Michaels, and hearing how he came up with the show is interesting. I had also forgotten that he left the show for a while in the 1980s (missing the Eddie Murphy years completely) before coming back with a vengeance and forming some of the greatest casts ever with Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, and others. But the film misses a chance to delve into what makes Michaels such a gifted judge of comedy and talent. Nguyen doesn’t dig deep at any point in the film, and the result is a nostalgia fest that fans will enjoy.
And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you like SNL, you’ll like Live From New York!. It’s briskly paced and seeing some of the smaller, forgotten cast members like Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, and Garrett Morris is a nice treat. While I still wish there was an SNL doc that truly dives into the interpersonal relationships and what must have been brutally difficult weeks in the writers’ room with people trying to stay creative, funny, and relevant, that film hasn’t been made and may never be made. Like any fan of Saturday Night Live, we take what we can get.