Hot Docs 2015: Live From New York! Review

Show Me Funny

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a sketch comedy show on NBC that airs live every Saturday night and has caused a bit of a stir. By now SNL has become more than just a TV series or even a pop phenomenon, it’s a cultural institution. For 40 years, the series has been a star-maker with the comedy equivalent of Yoda (Lorne Michaels) at the center. Live From New York! is the latest talking heads documentary to chronicle the remarkable history of the show and it plays out pretty much as you’d expect. All of the major eras and stars are at least glossed over, with most of the running time dedicated to the legendary 70s veterans and the last decade of the show. Director Bao Nguyen was clearly overwhelmed while attempting to condense 40 years of comedy history down to 90 minutes so he focused on the most storied and most recent casts, which was probably for the best from a commercial standpoint. 

As an SNL overview, Live From New York! certainly has its charms. Everyone from alums like Chevy Chase and Will Ferrell to regular hosts like Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin gets some interview time, spitting out a few new anecdotes between all the old stories and plenty of clips. It’s certainly a worthy subject for a doc and a fairly entertaining little piece of work. The trouble is that this material has been mined for many documentaries and books before, so there’s not much new to offer anyone who has already peaked into the robust history of SNL. At this point, a definitive SNL doc would have to be a mini-series with an hour dedicated every era to capture the true history/impact of the show and hope to offer viewers anything new.

Nguyen’s film feels like a highlight reel for a larger doc that could have been and as a result doesn’t offer anything that the recent SNL 40 TV special didn’t serve up more satisfyingly already. It’s still an interesting little curiosity for fans or a nice introduction to SNL history for viewers who are somehow unfamiliar with the show. Just not the definitive SNL documentary that some might be craving.  

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Screens:

Wednesday, April 29 @ 9:30pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Thursday, April 30 @ 7:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

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