No television show in history – outside of the nightly news – has tapped into the pulse of the American people like Saturday Night Live. Since its early years with a notably stacked cast of famous actors about to become overnight sensations, Lorne Michaels’ sketch comedy show – pitched initially as 60 Minutes meets Monty Python – became the first and last word in American political and social satire. From the tumultuous post-Vietnam and Watergate era, rife with easy targets, to a heartfelt and uneasy post 9/11 healing period for its beloved host city of New York, the sometimes controversial show has remained must see viewing well into the internet age and in spite of a rotating cast of players and internal problems.
Just in time for the landmark 40th anniversary of SNL, director Bao Nguyen’s film faces a lot of potential scrutiny in a year when thinkpieces and remembrances of the show have been almost oppressively abundant. So it’s a pleasant surprise that Nguyen creates a look at the show that focuses squarely on the societal impact of this NYC institution.
Live from New York! takes a unique, scholarly approach to its oral history, managing to be fun and informative even for longtime fans that might think they know everything about the show already. Nguyen has carefully selected the most erudite and thoughtful participants to speak on his core subject directly. Even better is the film’s ability to be openly critical of its subject with regard to past missteps and the show’s continued issues surrounding ethnic and gender equality among its cast.