An Season 37 SNL Report card: Part 1, The Featured Players
How the featured players did this past season and why
Vanessa Bayer: After two years on SNL and plenty of buzz while at ImprovOlympic and Second City, Vanessa sure did sink rather than swim ever since her arrival on the show. But with Kristen Wiig leading the pack this past season, Vanessa was stuck in the shadows and struggled to shine. Often, she received only minor supporting roles. Luckily, her Miley Cyrus impression boosted her presence slightly, but not by much. She was hilarious at Second City and IO, all my friends told me, what happened at SNL? What happened at SNL was what happens to most feature players: it takes them a while to get that one role that lets the audience see them and just understand them.
But in the mean time, she’s gotten a few supporting roles to really pull her up from the pack. Her Weekend Update appearance with Armisen as The Dictator’s Best Friends is a personal favorite of mine because when I watch it, I see her shine. She’s not trying to outshine anyone, she’s just doing what she does best - being funny. Let’s not forget J-Pop America Fun Time Now, a show she hosts with Taran Killam. Vanessa’s been getting plenty of opportunities to showcase her talent in subtle ways, but she still needs a bit of work with her accents and voices. Either way, though, she’s got what it takes and she needs time to grow into her own.
Vanessa still has yet to find that role that will pin her above the pack, but she did (as seen above) get several political roles as well as a minor role in the much-hyped Californians sketch. But, now, with Wiig leaving, Bayer will undoubtedly get the chance she needs. She’s about to show people just how hilarious she can be.
Paul Brittain: Paul left SNL after 12 episodes and to be honest, I was never really a fan of his. I never really got him or his characters. I did like his Lord Wynndemere character, but I felt like, as a featured player, Paul still had much to explore. If he did indeed feel underused in proportion to his skills, he should have stuck around and let it all play out - his fellow feature players, like Vanessa or Jay, haven’t had their time of day yet either. That’s part of SNL, though - each comedian has to earn their place over time, not just expect that they will shine instantly. Either way, I feel like there was much to be explored there and he should have stuck it out.
Taran Killam: With two years on the show behind him, Taran really stepped up to the plate this past season. Any fan you’d ask would tell you the same thing: We forget Taran is a featured player (and he won’t be for much longer). He’s fantastic in every regard of the show. This past season, Taran stepped up to the plate and proved himself as one of the lynch pins of the show. From political cold opens to his sassy and emotional characters (from Andy Cohen - who you can’t not love - to Piers Morgan to Michael Cera, and counting), Taran keeps fans in eager anticipation of what celebrity or star he’ll channel his energy into. There’s something so enjoyable and personal about watching him on the television and in person that gives you a great vibe.
Oh, and Taran is from The Groundlings, the same comedy improv troupe as Kristen Wiig, Chris Kattan, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell and more are from (you know that’s a good sign). You know he wants to be at SNL and succeed and you know you’re watching him do it. Taran is a natural star and by this time next year, he’ll be even bigger.
Kate McKinnon: Kate came in just four episodes before the end of the season after a “try-out” run on the Sofia Vergara show. Yet in the short period of time she’s been on the show, she’s done well. Her first show featured a Pantene commercial she apparently wrote herself - one of the funniest of the show - and her later appearance as Chelsea in a parody of her late night show entitled Helga Lately really helped bring her to the public’s attention. I guess I haven’t seen enough of her yet to really “get” her, but she’s a bit odd and it’s interesting to watch. While a lot of people have dubbed her the next Kristen Wiig, I have yet to see that in her and I think she has some growing to do. Either way, I think next season we’ll see Kate grow into her own.
Jay Pharoah: Jay is one of the most tragic cases of SNL at the moment. Jay’s either doing a spot on impression or making a background appearance on the show. I have a sneaky suspicion that he’s either lacking in the original character department or cannot find a writer/write for himself in a way that will showcase these characters. It’s tricky, I will admit to that, and I know SNL has writing teams - so it is time for Jay to find his writer. Maybe he hasn’t clicked with anyone, maybe he has. He’s so flaky and all over the place that the audience (fans like me) haven’t had a chance to pinpoint just who he is and what he is capable of.
In the meantime, he seems limited. He’s only making it to air with his impressions and we wonder: do you have original characters? Why aren’t they on the show? I don’t know what to think of him yet, and I think this past season has only enforced that. He’s got some figuring out to do and perhaps, this coming season, he’ll get the chance to explore his capabilities.
# vanessa bayer # snl # Saturday Night Live # nbc # Studio 8H # lorne michaels # Jay pharoah # Taran Killam # paul brittain # kate mckinnon # second city # improv olympic
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