An Season 37 SNL Report card: Part 2, The Prime Time Players
How every cast member did this past season and why
Bill Hader: Hader is an impressionist, and a damn good one at that. He’s so odd and weird that this past season, he’s stood out as a pilar of SNL’s comedy. He was Rick Perry, he was Clint Eastwood, he was a central part of The Californians, he was everyone’s go-to impressionist. Oh, and let’s not forget Stefon, a character he created with John Mulaney (and the world thanks you for that, Bill and John). Mulaney even switches references and words on cue cards between dress and air, but that’s a conversation for another time. It’s impossible to describe his contribution to the show because, like Fred Armisen, Bill Hader is also a backbone of the show. Without Wiig on the show, Hader and Armisen are set to shine (along with others).
Fred Armisen: I cannot speak about Fred without acknowledging his greatness….Now that that’s over: This past season has been one of Fred’s best. He’s been on the cast for 10 years and every year has been better than the next. He’s one of the most versatile, spot-on and quirky impressionist and actor that SNL has ever seen. He can master voices and impressions of anyone from Obama to Garth in Garth and Kat. There’s a passionate vibe you get when you watch him that you can only really find in Bill and Kristen. It’s like he’s intrigued by people. This past season, he had Obama, Garth, Cosby, and an array of other characters and impressions. He does each so well that it’s hard to notice how often he pulls together sketches and makes them better, from Portlandia to SNL. Look at his Mick Jagger impression - hilarious. To me, Fred is the most underrated, most talented and most under appreciated cast member on SNL. With Wiig gone, it’s going to become only more apparent how well Fred mixes with the cast and how hilarious he can be.
Abby Elliot: As a third generation SNL-er, I would expect more. This past season, though, Abby was hired and fired from a pilot - and Lorne was willing to let her go. Not the best news. Aside from her impression of Zooey Deschanel, she’s had supporting roles all season every season. She hasn’t found her groove this past season either, which disturbs me. She’s been with SNL since 2008 - it must be as frustrating for her as it is for us to watch her. There’s something about her that I just don’t get. Her presence on screen is barely energetic and she seems like she’s fading away. Maybe, with Wiig now gone, she’s finally find her place.
Seth Meyers: Oh Sethly (as Maya Rudolph’s Oprah would say), you have done this show well. With Weekend Update and writing as Seth’s only duties, he’s got his work cut out for him. He’s been on the show for 11 years. He’s just behind Darrell Hammond, who was on SNL for 14 years. The problem with Seth’s season this year was that although it featured great work on the writing side - kudos to him - he seemed exhausted half the season. Luckily, he has some of the best joke writers in the business: Alex Blaze, Jessica Conrad, Peter Schultz? He’s got a great team behind him with a mediocre past season full of dull satire that cannot compare to SNL’s last election coverage. It’s hard work, but he’s got to step up his game in the coming season. There’s work to be done.
Bobby Moynihan: The bad news is that I thought Bobby was a featured player until two episodes before the finale. But the good news is that this past season has been a good one for Bobby. He got Newt Gingrich (for however long that lasted, despite the lack of cold opens involving Gingrich), a few other political characters, and probably, most notably, he got Drunk Uncle. So this past season has been a good one for Bobby, a very good one that made a lot of people realize just how funny he can be. He knows he’s never going to be the star, so he’s playing it cool and just doing what he does best and it’s working. Hopefully, next season, he’ll get a bit more exposure.
Nasim Pedrad: Nasim is funny. That’s a fact - she really is. Remember that one sketch she used to do as the nerdy girl unable to socialize because she’s best friends with her mom. That was comedy, and Nasim was great. Where did she go? I guess this past season, Wiig took over as the dominant female (rightfully) and Nasim sort of faded away. But we have evidence that she can be funny….just not from this past season.
Andy Samberg: Without his Lonely Island buddies, this past season hasn’t been Andy’s best. He’s a funny guy, but his whole life was digital shorts. His transition to sketches again was rough and didn’t go too well. His appearance was sporadic and awkward. The only two highlights this season were the 100th digital short (oh God, too perfect) and Lazy Sunday 2. Yet his Lazy Sunday 2 video ended with the line, “On these New York Streets I honed my fake penmanship, that’s how it began, and that’s how I’mma finish it,” a line that seems to suggest he’s leaving. It’s up for grabs though - it feels like he’s covering his butt. He might or might not leave, but either way, he really doesn’t have anywhere else to go.
Jason Sudeikis: Oh Jason, you innocent, rule breaking moth (Parks&Rec reference, anyone?). Jason’s had his ups and downs and he’s not the star of the show in anyway, but this past season has been a solid season for him. When you look closely, he’s done quite a bit - he’s been Mitt Romney, Biden, and even his notable Weekend Update segment, The Devil. He usually gets a part in at least two sketches and he’s solid. Jason isn’t the funniest nor the best at impressions (although he somehow manages to make Romney mildly funny), but he’s the everyman every show. He didn’t have a particularly funny season, but he did show up every where and people can relate to him easily. He’s a solid player, and I don’t think he’s going anywhere next season, especially with the upcoming election. He could be looking at the role of a lifetime, whether or not Romney wins.
Kenan Thompson: Kenan is the perfect example of someone who has gotten too comfortable with his job. This past season featured almost no Kenan everywhere, except of course for his one appearance on “What up with that” (a sketch I thoroughly despise). He’s a nice guy that always opens up the show with a song before air when you go to see SNL in Studio 8H, but what has he done since? “What up with that” and all black politicians the show needs. This past season has seen Kenan get a little too used to being a part of the cast, and maybe that’s for the better. For this coming season, he needs to either step up his game or leave. Sorry, Kenan.
Kristen Wiig: Kristen Wiig was and will always be SNL’s star, this past season more than ever. Wiig ushered in an era of quirky and subtle but expressive comedy that overtook the Fey/Poehler era of sharp cutting political satire. She’s honed more than a handle of characters - Gilly, Target Lady, Aunt Linda, Penelope, Dooneese and, one of my personal favorites, Mindy Gracin. Once the dominant ladies of the early 2000s left - Fey, Poehler, Rudolph, Dratch - Wiig was slated to take over. And she did. No one will forget the way she dances or whispers her lines or can morph into any character at all. And, as I mentioned before, her goodbye was both perfect and suiting. Without Wiig, the entire dynamic of the show will shift. But, like Amy’s presence on the stage during the SNL goodbyes indicated, life will go on. Letting go is for the best, and letting go will allow her to truly blossom. Wiig will always, always be able to come home, back to Studio 8H. Cross your fingers, everyone, because Wiig needs to host soon. That’s the only way I’ll stop watching “She’s A Rainbow.”
# snl # Saturday Night Live # nbc # Studio 8H # Amy Poehler # tina fey # bill hader # kenan thompson # jason sudeikis # kristen wiig # Bobby Moynihan # Fred Armisen # Nasim Pedrad # Abby Elliot # Seth meyers # Andy Samberg # the lonely island # lorne michaels
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
There is nothing more electrifying than siting in the audience for the live taping (no, not the dress rehearsal, though I have fond memories of that too) for Saturday Night Live. This comes after my friend and I by chance got tickets to SNL. We had previously camped out for the Maya Rudolph episode and made it into dress. After plenty of tears of joy and laughter, we promised ourselves that one day we would see a live show. Saturday the 14th was our day, and this is our story.
# my experience # nbc # personal # saturday night live # snl # snl live blog # snl liveblog # kristen wiig # jay pharoah # jorma tacone # bobby moynihan # Fred Armisen