Universal // 2005 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // March 10th, 2008
"Dark and lonely on a summer's night. Kill my landlord. Kill my
Watchdog barking. Do he bite? Kill my landlord. Kill my landlord.
Slip in his window. Break his neck. Then his house I start to wreck.
Got no reason. What the heck? Kill my landlord. Kill my landlord. C-I-L-L my land lord!"
As part of the thirtieth anniversary of Saturday Night Live a couple of years ago, documentary filmmaker Kenneth Bowser conducted a number of extensive interviews with old and new members of the show for a series of video recollections. Bowser, who put together the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls documentary, certainly has an awareness of what he wants to accomplish, and SNL in the '80s: Lost and Found is a candid, yet entertaining look at what transpired on the show during the "decade of greed."
For those unfamiliar of the show's position at the beginning of the decade, the show was easily at the peak of its creativity and adoration. The "Not Ready For Primetime Players" and their creative patriarch Lorne Michaels all decided to leave after the show's fifth season in 1980, so Jean Doumanian took over as executive producer and had to start from the ground up with a new cast. The cast included then-unrecognizable performers like Gilbert Gottfried and Joe Piscopo, and a teenager named Eddie Murphy. The other players were, let's face it, not the best in the world. They knew it, the people knew it, and this mutual distaste culminated in one of them uttering a profanity which seemed to put the capper on a show that was wasting away years of love, praise, and goodwill. Doumanian was fired after the first year and television sports producer Dick Ebersol was brought in to help prevent the ship from sinking further. Clearly, the duo of Murphy and Piscopo were the lynchpins of the day, and Ebersol sometimes used them to the point of excess. After Murphy's breakout success with 48 Hours, it was clear that he was not long for the earth of live television, and though he left, he was replaced by other capable comedic talents like Julia-Louis Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine), Jim Belushi (Trading Places), and several others, and in 1985, Ebersol brought in a "Dream Team" of sorts, such as veterans Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap) and Billy Crystal (City Slickers). At the end of his tour, though, Ebersol was burnt out and wanted to leave, and Michaels was offered the reins one more time -- and there was a new cast brought in to help late-night television comedy continue to evolve. While there were some good casting choices by Michaels in 1985-86 (Jon Lovitz and Nora Dunn), others were not so much (Randy Quaid?). Thankfully that cast went as quickly as it came. There were some holdovers, though, and combined with new additions Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, and Dennis Miller, the show managed to quickly hit a stride of outstanding writing and hilarious performances. It also helped that the late '80s writing staff included such people as Conan O'Brien and Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show). So by the time 1989 came around, the show was certainly in better shape with a more tangible future than it was in 1980.
The feature covers all of this remarkably well to boot. Piscopo, Gottfried, and other members of the Doumanian cast discuss their time on the show, and each era's cast seems to be adequately represented, with Louis-Dreyfus, Crystal, and Martin Short, to name a few, all contributing to the piece, not to mention interviews with Ebersol and Michaels. Everyone shares their thoughts on the show and what it was accomplishing -- or not, as the case may be. The feature isn't all just interviews though, there's also a pretty good mix of clips from of the sketches, and a wide variety of musical acts like Queen, The Kinks, and Bonnie Raitt. There are even some candid stills interspersed, too, and overall this is certainly worth the time. Aside from this near 90-minute feature, there's even a separate hour of additional footage as well that goes a little bit deeper below the surface and recalls a few more of the show's warts. Among those in the supplement are the Damon Wayans era during the 1985-86 season, along with how the African-American (and women) performers were treated during the years, and the opportunities to crack up the guest hosts (and each other) on air are shown, too, and are worth a few laughs also.
I remember when I was watching these documentaries a couple years ago, and I was kvetching over the fact that SNL hadn't been releasing the complete seasons at that point. Now that they're doing it, I'd suggest revisiting the older episodes with Lost in the '80s and the other Bowser-helmed documentaries, because they serve as a worthy accomplice to the original material. These are all worth putting into your library, whether you're a hardcore fan of the show or even a casual one.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Additional Footage
* Official Site
* Unofficial Fan Site