Kenneth Bowser’s decade-long examinations of “Saturday Night Live” have been significantly richer and more detailed than the average clipshow, but the latest version — devoted to the 2000s — assumes additional weight because of the crush of still-fresh historic events. Bowser chronicles how the show dealt with the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the historic 2000 and 2008 elections, as well as more mundane matters — from replacing Will Ferrell to the ascent of female cast members on what has traditionally been a male-dominated show. Despite some flab and puffery, it’s a highly watchable couple of hours.
Although “SNL” has seen better days creatively, the decade was surely memorable from a news perspective. Producer Steve Higgins discusses the feeling of “doing something to bring normalcy back” in returning to the air post-9/11, while there’s discussion of whether Ferrell — with his portrayal of George W. Bush as a likable dunce — might have actually helped the candidate during a razor-thin election.
The spec also delves into the phenomenon of “SNL’s” digital shorts — a la “Dick in a Box” or “Lazy Sunday” — and how those went viral, showering unexpected attention to the decades-old franchise by way of new media.
It’s interesting, too, to hear Tina Fey explain how she reluctantly became Sarah Palin, or to see Sen. John McCain interviewed expressing admiration for Darrell Hammond’s talents as a mimic, despite the former “SNL” regular’s doddering impersonation of him.
The program is on considerably shakier ground in its effusive praise of the recent cast, when “SNL” has often been a slog to watch in recent years — despite having been swept up in events (foremost the 2008 election) that kept its ratings high. That perhaps-inevitable promotional impulse notwithstanding, Bowser’s comprehensive DVD-worthy history — beginning with a special devoted to “The First 5 Years,” followed by the ’80s and ’90s — has reached its logical end.
At least, until it’s time to look back fondly on “SNL” in the 2010s.