The State of Saturday Night Live
Over the course of its 38 seasons, Saturday Night Live has faced any number of obstacles and challenges, overcoming them all to become one of the most enduring institutions in the history of television. The most difficult thing for the show has historically been handling the transitions from one cast to the next. This was definitely a transition season with the show having lost two of its stalwarts in Andy Samberg and Kristin Wiig, and poised to possibly lose at least three more key players at the end of this year (Sudeikis, Hader and Armisen) as well as head writer and Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers.
The three new cast members (four, if you include Kate McKinnon who joined the show towards the end of last season) had trouble integrating themselves into the show at first because the old guard claimed a lot of screen time while the writers were trying to establish a few up and comers as the new face of the show, leaving Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong and Tim Robinson lucky to get in a single sketch each week. After a few months, McKinnon, Bryantand Strong had managed to generate a few recurring sketches and characters with only Robinson failing to make any kind of impact. With the emergence of these three new strong women adding to the incredibly versatile Vanessa Bayer and Nasim Pedrad, SNL looks like it may be heading into a girl’s club renaissance echoing the late ‘90s and early ‘00s when Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Ana Gasteyerdominated the show.
As far as the men go, Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan have become the shows newest stars and I fully expect that we will start to see them popping up in movies on a regular basis. Keenan Thompson does a lot of the heavy lifting on the show, but tends not to end up in the really buzzworthy sketches that garner a lot of the internet chatter that has started to define success on Saturday Night Live. Jay Pharaoh only exists to do his Obama impression, having failed to score laughs in either the live sketches or the pre-taped bits. Pharaoh is the show’s most gifted impressionist, but the writers have struggled to come up with innovative ways to use that skill so he mostly just does Weekend Update segments as Jay-Z or Kanye West. I am curious to see if Tim Robinson is invited back for next season, because I am certain that most if not all of the new cast members joining the show will be men.
Week to week, the strongest segment on the show has been Weekend Update. Meyers has been brilliant this season handling serious topics like the Presidential Election and Hurricane Sandy as well as skewering the more ridiculous pop culture stories. SNL’s best character work has also been on Update, with Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle, Hader’sStefon, and Strong’s Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party. Determining who will take over the desk is without question the most important decision that creator Lorne Michaels will have to make this summer.
Lastly it is vital that the show re-evaluates the process it uses to determine who hosts the show next year. There are a handful of stars who should be asked back every year to host: Justin Timberlake, Jon Hamm, Melissa McCarthy, Zach Galifianakis, Jonah Hill and Alec Baldwin. Many of the episodes this season were flat because the hosts weren’t capable of handling the demands of the show. In that vein, the weakest shows of the year were the ones hosted by singers. Having struck gold with Timberlake, SNL was trying too hard to recapture that by giving Bruno Mars, Justin Beiber and Adam Levine a turn at the helm. No matter how charismatic they are, sometimes singers are just singers. With the cast set to become markedly younger next year, SNL needs to discover its next batch of great hosts from Hollywood’s younger generation. My suggestions would include: Chloe Grace Moretz, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, Donald Glover, Aziz Ansari, Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Watson. I have been a loyal viewer of Saturday Night Live for almost my entire life and I look forward to seeing how the show evolves as it moves into its 39th season because my weekend isn’t complete if I don’t hear the phrase, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”