Saturday Night Live in the '90s: Pop Culture Nation

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4 out of 5 stars
CHEERFEST Ferrell and Oteri shake their pom-poms.
CHEERFEST Ferrell and Oteri shake their pom-poms.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday Night Live in the ’90s: Pop Culture Nation opens with 1991 footage of guest host Steve Martin being handed his Jimmy Carter–era King Tut outfit by then-current cast member Chris Farley. “I remember this,” Martin intones. “This is back when the show meant something. Back when I used to care.”

That deadpan-sarcastic throwaway line sums up this special’s M.O. Pop Culture Nation aims to puff up the image of an oft-maligned SNL decade by implying that the ’70s incarnation wasn’t exactly Molière, that topical, live sketch comedy always yields an inconsistent product and that some of the ’90s stuff was damned funny—particularly Adam Sandler’s Raffi-on-pot musical stylings; Robert Smigel’s cartoons; the kinetic insanity of Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon and Farley; and the committed clowning of frequent guest hosts Alec Baldwin, John Goodman and Christopher Walken (“More cowbell!”). The special’s rat-a-tat editing aids the rehab effort by ensuring that no sketch gets more than a few seconds of screen time.

That bit of self-protection aside, this is still a fun, reasonably frank look at a lively chapter in SNL’s history—the period that witnessed the nasty deaths of Farley and Phil Hartman, and saw the mainstream media declaring the show irrelevant (partly, the documentary speculates, because its increasingly young cast reached out to Generations X and Y and quit pandering to baby boomers). And of course, nostalgia being what it is, you can bet viewers who came of age in the ’90s will recall that period as the golden years. “People look back and say, ‘Oh, those were the good times—it’s this bunch I don’t care for,’ ” SNL producer Michael Shoemaker says. “It’s always that way.” — Matt Zoller Seitz

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