TV

Saturday Night Live in Trouble?

Alex McCormick ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

After the losses of Andy Samberg, Abby Elliott, and above all, Kristen Wiig, I certainly did not go into this last season of Saturday Night Live with high hopes. I was, however, wrong. Very, very wrong. While this season wasn’t very consistent—SNL never is—it had some really great episodes with hosts Louis CK, Christophe Waltz, Justin Timberlake, and Jennifer Lawrence, as well as the absolute best musical performance I, personally, have ever seen on the SNL soundstage, in Alabama Shakes’ “Hold On” and “Always Right.”

Kate McKinnon, who joined the cast in spring of 2012, proved she is and will be a staple of the SNL cast in years to come, and newcomer Cecily Strong certainly made her mark on SNL with her Update character, The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party. New cast members Aidy Bryant and Tim Robinson, however, did not leave us with any kind of impression, though the former did have a few moments in the spotlight spread throughout the year. This season was about the cast repairing and re-establishing itself after the crushing loss of Kristen Wiig. Overall, they did that quite nicely. However, it seems that SNL is going through another major overhaul in the coming months.

In May, NBC announced that long-time Weekend Update anchor and co-head writer, Seth Meyers, will be leaving SNL next winter and replacing Jimmy Fallon as host of The Tonight Show. Meyers’ co-head, Colin Jost, will likely move forward as sole head writer. Also in May, veteran cast members Bill Hader and Fred Armisen announced that they would not be returning to SNL in the fall. This news was quickly followed by rumors that Jason Sudeikis would also be leaving the cast—a rumor that may have been accidentally verified by cast member Jay Pharoah on Twitter. All this news begs two very important questions: who will replace Seth Meyers at the Update desk? and what on earth are Lorne Michaels and the rest of the SNL cast going to do with four departing powerhouses?

The answer to the first question is relatively easy; despite rumors that SNL writer and standup comedian John Mulaney (whose NBC pilot was not ordered to series) may join the cast for Update, this is, realistically, a pipe dream. The likely candidate(s) are Taran Killam (who I believe is a shoe-in) and Nasim Pedrad. I highly doubt that we’ll be seeing a solo-anchor Update anytime soon, and Killam and Pedrad are the two cast members who I believe have the right comedic abilities, and who aren’t known for their recurring characters on Update. That said, Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers will probably try a number of different options before deciding on Meyers’ official replacement when he leaves the cast in December 2013.

The second question is one that keeps me up at night. The current and future cast makes me very nervous for two reasons; the first is the female voice on the show (or lack thereof), and the second is the seniority (again, or lack thereof) of the current cast.

Lorne Michaels is notoriously sexist, and he really seems to have shot himself in the foot a number of times with regards to women on SNL. Comparing the current female cast members—Vanessa Bayer, Nasim Pedrad, Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, & Cecily Strong–to some of the women from SNL‘s past—Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, etc.—I am very nervous that the show is stuck in a rut with its female cast members. Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong are great and have a lot of potential, but their abilities aren’t sharp enough to carry the show by themselves; I continue to ask myself why the uncomfortably unfunny and one-note Vanessa Bayer was cast to begin with; and appearances from Nasim Pedrad and Aidy Bryant—despite clear talent and/or potential—are few and far between.

I have similar concerns about the current male presence on the show, which includes Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson, & Tim Robinson. I think what the show is missing is a Will Ferrell-type leading man; Killam is great and he will most likely be carrying the show for many years to come, but he just doesn’t give off the Farrellian vibe—at least not as of right now. Moynihan serves as an always-reliable backbone to the show. Pharoah is one of the greatest impressionists SNL has ever had, but he probably won’t be a frontrunner. That leaves Thompson and Robinson—er, rather, that leaves no one. Kenan is definitely on his way out—I’d be surprised if he stays after the 2013 season—and I’d be even more surprised if Tim Robinson is ever promoted to repertory status.

What it boils down to is that none of the current SNL cast is remotely prepared to hold the show to the standard that we as viewers are used to. The problem with the current cast is that if anyone were to leave, I don’t think it would necessarily deal that big a blow to the show as a whole, maybe with the exceptions of Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan. Give it a few years and we can add Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong to that list, but at this point, the cast is replaceable.

Taking into account Meyers’, Hader’s, and Armisen’s official departures, and factoring in the Sudeikis’ anticipated exit, SNL will likely promote Kate McKinnon to repertory player add two or three new featured faces come fall—one female and one or two males. The transition in the fall might be rockier than last years, simply because viewers don’t have as many reliable cast members to fall back on; we won’t have Bill’s Stefon. We won’t have Fred’s (insert generic non-white character here). We won’t have Jason’s Billy Ray Cyrus. And starting in 2014, we won’t have the always reliable Seth behind the Update desk. However, Saturday Night Live is a resilient, historical entity; it’s seen quite a bit of change in its nearly forty years of existence and never fails to surprise and entertain its audience. I’m have confidence that Lorne Michaels and the rest of the SNL cast will pull through and give us an awesome season.

Saturday Night Live returns in the fall for its thirty-ninth season.

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