Saturday Night Live without Kristen Wiig
How the show will change without its front runner and why it won’t sink.
After Saturday’s rousing and emotional finale, fans of Saturday Night Live can be sure of two things: Firstly, Jon Hamm does indeed live in a closet in 30 Rock, and secondly, SNL will never be the same without Kristen Wiig.
But, unlike some critics, I don’t believe Wiig’s last four years were her milking old sketches and trying to be funny. I am part of the majority that sees Wiig as a gem for the show, a leader and funny woman who was fearless in her comedy and light in her humor.
The entire episode was a tribute to Wiig and her best characters. While there were whispers earlier in January about her departure, a Laurence Welk cold open only confirmed beliefs that she would be leaving.
In fact, once they did Gilly (a sketch believed to be dead to many fans) when Sofia Vergara hosted and, later, Garth and Kat, a singing duo on Weekend Update (who also vanished for a while), I felt like Wiig was prepared for her departure. It felt as if she wanted to do her favorite sketches before she left to add more closure to when she would leave.
So after the Laurence Welk Cold Open with Jon Hamm as guest star, which ended with Fred Armisen, Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig all yelling “Live From New York It’s Saturday Night!!,” it only made sense that they would follow the monologue with The Secret Word.
Unlike 90% of the critics around, I thoroughly love The Secret Word. Actually, The Secret Word is my favorite Kristen Wiig sketch (tied with Garth and Kat!). Entertainment Weekly criticized last Saturday’s sketch as wearing out it’s welcome and wondering why writers don’t write more “Don’t make me sing” sketches. However, “Don’t make me sing,” no matter how brilliant a sketch, is always the same scenario. Secret Word, arguably, is the same thing every time, but that accent with her blind inability to never get the question right gets me every time.
But as the episode came to a close and Ruby Tuesday played while Mick Jagger sang along, one could not help feeling like this poignant goodbye was for the best. Following the smash hit Bridesmaids, there is little to no doubt that Wiig will dominate the movie industry and make it her own, much like SNL Alum Will Ferrell did upon his departure. There is no reason to believe Wiig will fade into the dust and her fans have only seen the first of her.
Unlike many cast members, her run was relatively short and full of original characters and catchphrases that thousands across the U.S.A. use in daily conversation. She had a real impact on the people who tuned in just for her; from the people who saw her rise from the dust story as a true inspiration to those who just laughed at her in passing, Wiig became the undisputable star of SNL. And while I strongly disagree with critics who claim her last four years were not funny and will not use this post to fight them, I think we can all agree that without Wiig, SNL will be vastly different.
Changes to come
With Wiig gone, the four remaining females - Vanessa Bayer, Nasim Pedrad, Abby Elliot and the newly added Kate McKinnon - will have to step up their game. Without a so-called Queen to take all the female leading roles, these four will have to dip more into political sketches and fill the void that Wiig left. However, this will truly give them the chance they’ve waited for to shine. They no longer have to stand in Wiig’s shadows and instead can take the lead themselves. Elliot and Pedrad have been on the show for years and have rarely received anything but a mildly supporting role.
Bayer, who many expected to do well on the show given her success at Second City, faded into the shadows almost instantly. I feel as if she’s got the potential to go far, but either has no writer who understands and writes for her or she has constantly wilted in Wiig’s shadow.
Elliot, who’s track record of mildly funny sketch comedy, also faded away. Pedrad was given a few chances to shine but not as many as she deserved and MicKinnon, new to the pack, has given people reason to buzz about her fresh and awkward sense of humor. I predict that McKinnon and Bayer will shine given the right circumstances - they’ve both got a great past behind them and now they’ve got the right opportunity to seize. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Bayer will do in the coming season. The dynamic among the women (who can expect for Lorne Michaels, the show’s creator, to find another companion for them) will inevitably shift in the coming season.
In addition, the show’s next funniest comedians - Fred Armisen and Bill Hader - will likely shine even more without Wiig’s presence. For me, Armisen and Hader are two of the funniest people on the show. Hader and Armisen have already proven themselves as two of the funniest people on the show, from Armisen’s ability to play the quirkiest and weirdest of characters to Hader’s spot on impressions. Both have an array of original characters and impressions that set them far apart from anyone else on the cast. While they often shined next to Wiig, it will be interesting to watch their chemistry shift to either relying on each other or taking another cast member under their wing as their partner and friend in sketches.
Armisen has proven to be perhaps the most underrated and under appreciated comedian on the show. Watching Portlandia makes one aware of his ability to simply morph into a character or person by watching them and picking up on tiny details. He is so often spot on that people do not notice his frequent appearance in almost every sketch. In this past Saturday’s episode, his impression of Mick Jagger was so fearless and daring that you can’t not laugh.
Hader, similarly, is blessed with the ability to simply become anyone. Both Hader and Armisen, however, remind me of Darrell Hammond in that their ability to become and to understand is so to the T that you have to wonder when they will finally become a household name like Kristen Wiig. Perhaps now is their time.
Of course let’s not forget Taran Killam, a fellow Groundling like Kristen Wiig who has lead numerous sketches this season despite his status as a featured player. Fans of the show have come to embrace Killam as a star and brilliant presence on the show. Killam, who will likely be promoted next season to a cast member, has shown a surprising knack for making just about anything he touches funny. From what we’ve seen this far, we can expect Killam - with the right writers and timing - to seize the day in Studio 8H.
While many have dubbed jay Pharoah as the next rising star now that Wiig has departed, I cannot see this as even a mild possibility. Pharoah might have several impressions down perfectly (even Obama, as he did for me and a group of friends one night at 30 Rock), but he has not been given the chance to shine anywhere beyond impressions. I have a sneaky suspicion that Pharoah lags when it comes to original characters, but even his impressions have seen enough screen time for their nuanced portrayals. Given these glimpses of potential, I can only conclude that Pharoah has not found a writer that can understand him and write for him in a way that is funny, which is a shame. But it happens, and it’s happened to plenty of comedians over SNL’s span of years - and at that point, they should start writing for themselves. Either way, Pharoah will either sink or swim in the coming season.
Of course, fans can expect Lorne Michaels to recruit a new cast member or two over the summer. In that way, we will always be left surprised at what will come in season 38. While current cast members Jason Sudeikis and Andy Samberg have yet to decide if they will depart (and I doubt they will, to be honest), the upcoming season will be full of surprises. With a dynamic already shifting, it will be interesting to see who takes the lead, who seizes the day, and who will sink in Season 38 of Saturday Night Live.
# Bobby Moynihan # Jay pharoah # Saturday Night Live # abby elliot # commentary # critic # criticism # critique # jason sudeikis # kate mckinnon # kristen wiig # lorne michaels # nasim pedrad # nbc # op-ed # oped # snl # studio 8h # taran killam # the groundlings # vanessa bayer # Fred Armisen # bill hader # seth meyers
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