A legend’s story: Apple TV+’s two-part documentary on Steve Martin is a gem

What an excellent idea—a Steve Martin documentary told in two parts, entitled “Then” and “Now,” covering two very important periods in the man’s legendary career.

Both parts are directed by Morgan Neville. “Then” is basically Martin’s origin story, covering his days as an employee at Disneyland performing magic tricks, up through his iconic standup career. “Now” covers his movie career, his partnership with Martin Short and his surprising success as a musical artist, expertly picking that banjo of his.

Even though Neville directs both parts, the two feel almost like separate docs with different approaches. While “Then” relies upon archival footage to show us his journey from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to Saturday Night Live, “Now” features plenty of time with Martin and Short, participating in interviews and generally ribbing each other.

If you are a Martin fan, you will be in heaven. I am a huge fan, and I thought I knew everything about him—but the two docs showed me sides of Martin about which I wasn’t aware. I knew he was once a shy, perhaps anxious type, but his anxieties actually crippled him a bit in his earlier years. As Martin marvels in his older age, he can’t believe how calm he is now compared to the early years.

There’s a true poignancy to his story as the docs examine Martin’s relationship with his dad, his failed marriage and his happy current marriage. While I had read about the ending of his standup career in the early ’80s, the doc drives home the reasons why Martin left the standup stage. (I did see Martin’s music act a few years back, and he did mix some fine comedy into that show, so he hasn’t completely quit his stage-comedy act—he did a bluegrass “King Tut”!) That live-comedy part of him also stays alive with the live shows he does with Short.

Only Murders in the Building and his banjo prowess have given Martin a renaissance in recent years. These docs do a beautiful job of encapsulating a long, amazing career that has plenty of gas left in the tank. It’s nice to see a man of his talents get the respectful look at his career that he deserves.

Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces is streaming on Apple TV+.

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