SNL's cast change news

The next season I'm going to be reviewing on the blog is...1982-83!  I'm going to start my reviews after the current season wraps up; I'll be giving my thoughts on 2012-13 as a whole before doing my intro post for the season, then the first review will be of the Chevy Chase / Queen show.

It's been quite an eventful week in Saturday Night Live related news: it hasn't been a full week since the last live show with host Kristen Wiig (which was, by most accounts, underwhelming) but with word that this week's season finale will be Bill Hader and Fred Armisen's last show, and the announcement that Seth Meyers will depart mid-season to take over Late Night, SNL's next season is already shaping up to be very different.

Bill Hader's departure is going to be a huge loss for the show; I consider him to be the "glue" of the current cast, and many fans on the message boards have already mentioned he belongs in the ranks of the top ten SNLers of all time.  He impressed me even as far back as his rookie season: there was one sketch in the Jason Lee episode that was a commercial parody for tasers, and Hader walked away with the whole thing with his delivery on one line: "Is that man a criminal? Well, he sure looked like one."  There was a time when Andy Samberg overshadowed him, especially immediately after "Lazy Sunday" hit big, but Hader has been consistently solid in sketches, even if sometimes he begins to break character, as he does in Scared Straight, The Californians, or Stefon.  Despite sticking around the show for a year longer than Kristen Wiig, it never really felt like he overstayed his welcome: even his big recurring character Stefon is still capable of providing the highlight of a particular show.

I'm a little more mixed on losing Fred Armisen.  Early in his tenure, he brought such a different sensibility to the show, and was a relief from the antics of Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz, which were starting to run their course (side note: I've since grown to appreciate both a bit more).   Unfortunately, Armisen's last few years haven't held up to the standard set by his early SNL work.  Part of the blame goes to his being cast as Barack Obama: at the time, it made a bit of sense, since Armisen had the closest resemblance to the candidate, but he never really got the voice down or found a real hook for the impression.  It didn't help that the most frequent use of his Obama was in these lengthy, lecture-like "in one" segments.  Toward the end of the run, his other roles started to run together: in the Arab Spring, he had a string of appearances as middle-eastern dictators making outdated pop-culture references in the same identical accent.  I never cared much for Garth and Kat or The Californians either.  His work on Portlandia seems to be where he's at his best, though, even if his later SNL work comes off as him goofing off and participating in private jokes.  Even so, he still had a knack for knowing parodies of certain types of people and affectionate tributes to musical genres.  Eleven years is a long time to stay on the show, though, and Armisen's departure is something that opens up a lot of possibilities for SNL.

The biggest change will be Seth Meyers' promotion to late-night talk show host.  Meyers has been the show's head writer and Weekend Update anchor since 2006; he is currently the longest-tenured WU anchor of all time.  While the show has taken a bit of a dip in quality around 2009, a lot of the sketches with Meyers' name attached have been some of the strongest of the past few seasons: he wrote Coach Bert (Steve Buscemi episode) and Darrell's House (Zach Galifianakis episode).  He's staying an extra half-season, but I'm curious whether his exit will also mean that he's going to poach the ranks of the current SNL writing staff for his new show.  Despite all the new players that have been introduced since Meyers became head writer, the writing feels stale at times, with the writers' room dominated by veterans and new writers only lasting a short period of time (particularly the 2008, 2009 and 2010 hires).  If anything is going to shift the show significantly, it's going to be Meyers leaving.

I think the remaining cast (particularly Taran Killam and Cecily Strong) has proven they are more than capable of carrying the show, even if these three veterans are gone.  Some expect Jason Sudeikis and Kenan Thompson to leave with them, but until either say the word, they could still be heading up the next year's cast.  Despite some issues with the writing, this year's cast is one of the best in a long time.

But I'll get back to that after the finale.