The documentary "Live From New York!" is an entertaining but insubstantial chronicle of one of America's most enduring and influential television shows, NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Why director Bao Nguyen chose to jam 40 years of TV history into a mere 81 minutes, when a full two hours might not have sufficed, is just one of many curious choices.
The film begins at the beginning, introducing the show's original — some might say best — ensemble cast via an archival TV interview with Tom Snyder. We then see bits of some of the most beloved "SNL" skits and characters plus recent chats with such alumni as Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris and Will Ferrell as well as with the show's architect and driving force, Lorne Michaels.
As Nguyen rolls forward throughout the decades, the telling feels random, relying on pointed or amusing splotches of history and performance, particularly those reflecting the political zeitgeist. The "SNL" connection to 9/11 and then-"America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani may be worthy of its close-up, but there's a self-congratulatory feel to it — as to much else that's covered here.
A great deal, however, goes missing. Although many of the folks who've long worked in front of and behind the cameras are seen here, Nguyen provides little sense of the complex group process of churning out so much up-to-the-minute funny in so little time.
The series' ongoing impact and resonance — the fans, the movie spinoffs, the cast members' career trajectories, the show's survival and reinvention techniques — as well as the darker sides of "SNL" history also receive minimal attention.
The movie contains enough warmth, humor and nostalgia to prove an affable if unremarkable snapshot.
"Live From New York!"
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.