February 28, 2005 12:00 PM

NBC (Sun., Feb. 20,9 p.m. ET)


Almost from the moment Saturday Night Live was born, some people have said it ain’t what it used to be. The complaint comes with the territory when you’re doing a 90-minute weekly broadcast that’s supposed to be filled with fresh, Grade A comedy.

Ah, but the first five years—those nights when Not Ready for Prime Time Players Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris and, belatedly, Bill Murray strutted upon the stage. Everyone agrees that 1975-80 was the show’s golden age, and this special documents that fertile period in two entertaining, fast-paced hours.

Sadly, the gang’s not all here. Belushi and Radner died in the ’80s. Murray and Curtin aren’t interviewed in this film, and their absence hurts. When colleagues recall that Murray was an angry young man or that Curtin was disgusted by the wild behavior in SNL‘s New York offices, we wish the two would speak for themselves. Chase offers a few comments, but there’s not enough here on his early exit for Hollywood, which opened a spot for Murray. Still, Aykroyd, Newman and Morris look back with fairly clear eyes, as do executive producer Lorne Michaels, writer-performer Al Franken and a bunch of behind-the-scenes talents who kept the enterprise going in an atmosphere of deadline pressure, intense intramural competition and creative insanity. “It was about trying to get away with things,” says writer Neil Levy. How much of that rebellious spirit has survived? Let the argument begin.

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