"Saturday Night Live" is perennially raked over the coals as being unfunny, unfocused and unhip, typically as each season fires up and some new faces are introduced. Certainly, since the writers' strike has passed, "SNL" is enjoying being in the critics' good graces again (it helps that they're producing some pretty sharp political comedy too). But after the first five years, when the original cast and producer Lorne Michaels bowed out, the world seemed to think that the Saturday night comedy show was screwed.
It's at this juncture that director Kenneth Bowser's SNL in the '80s: Lost and Found picks up, interviewing a range of participants associated with the program during the turbulent Me Decade. Everyone from Joe Piscopo and Billy Crystal to Dick Ebersol and Conan O'Brien sits for new interviews, revealing the depths of insecurity and uncertainty that plagued all but the brightest stars (Eddie Murphy, Piscopo). Much like Bowser's Seventies-centric and Nineties-centric "SNL" documentaries, this 87-minute retrospective, released in 2005, includes plenty of vintage clips and musical performances.
There isn't much in the way of analysis to be found here; most of those interviewed are simply offering remembrances, a sort of living biography of one of America's cultural institutions. This isn't a bad tactic, but I felt myself wishing here (as I did in Bowser's other films) for some kind of outside perspective, an academic type that could provide some insight into the long-term impact "SNL" has had on our culture. Simply flashing newspaper clippings up on screen doesn't cut it.
Curiously, the bumpers and occasional editing of foul language have been retained, ostensibly from broadcast. Either I got some kind of fluky screener version (possible, but I doubt it; it looks pretty final) or Universal is being spectacularly lazy. The doc is no great shakes, but it is diverting and somewhat informative -- why on Earth would you just dump an edited version of this doc on disc and shove it onto shelves? At any rate, for those with a serious love of "SNL," this is well worth seeking out. For the haters, well, just keep on hatin'.
Presented, as originally broadcast on NBC, in a pretty solid 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer, the quality of the image varies depending upon the age of the footage. Some of the early Eighties clips look a bit more worn and some of the clips closer to the Nineties have an edgy, overly video-y appearance. The newly filmed interview segments look crisp and clean, and overall, this is a fine visual representation.
The robust Dolby Digital 5.1 track (mislabeled as a Dolby 2.0 stereo track on the case) is almost too much -- the newly filmed interview segments are plenty loud, as is the vintage music. However, the vintage sketches often sound a bit tinny, but overall, as with the visuals, the audio gets the job done.
An untitled featurette (presented in fullscreen) runs for 57 minutes and 23 seconds; it's the only bonus on board. Mostly, it's a continuation of the feature -- interviews, sketches and insight from the "SNL" cast of the Eighties.
After "Saturday Night Live'"s classic first five years, the original cast and producer Lorne Michaels bowed out, and the world seemed to think that the Saturday night comedy show was screwed. It's at this juncture that director Kenneth Bowser's SNL in the '80s: Lost and Found picks up, interviewing a range of participants associated with the program during the turbulent Me Decade. For those with a serious love of "SNL," this is well worth seeking out. Recommended.