Brooks Wheelan, Noel Wells and John Milheiser have all been fired from Saturday Night Live last week. That’s one half of the cohort of featured players brought in at the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Despite trumpeting their collective SNL debut in the season premiere with two sketches devoted to the new hires, it felt like the show lost faith in them by the end of November...Read More
Last year, Saturday Night Live said goodbye to Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg, two of the major performers on the show's past couple of seasons. Samberg and his cohorts from The Lonely Island brought the show into the viral media age with their Digital Shorts, and for better or worse, Wiig was the show's dominant performer. The loss of the show's most recognizable stars seemed to portend an uncertain time in SNL's history, but despite the hiring of a few new faces and the dismissal of another player (Abby Elliott), the 2012-13 season didn't seem to have a feeling that there was a void the show was desperately trying to fill. A lot of the credit for this belongs to the new performers hired as featured players, particularly Cecily Strong; she established her place on the show quickly and firmly, in a way not seen since Amy Poehler. Kate McKinnon (a late-season addition for 2011-12), was also fairly prominent, owing to having similar strengths as the departed Wiig. While Aidy Bryant and Tim Robinson are still waiting for their breakouts, both show promise and distinct sensibilities that the show could mine to its benefit.
I do feel the long tenures of some players like Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen and Kenan Thompson tend to hold the show from effectively developing some of the new cast, but in three seasons alone, Taran Killam seems ready to take over as SNL's alpha male next season. Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader provided a solid backbone for this season. Bobby Moynihan had the best year of his tenure, Vanessa Bayer rebounded from a confidence drop that plagued her throughout 2011-12, and Jay Pharoah taking over the Obama impression helped establish his place in the cast. Only Nasim Pedrad feels particularly misused, mainly stuck with "little kid" and "old lady" roles.
The writing staff was mostly stable this year. There were a few departures: Christine Nangle and Weekend Update writer Jessica Conrad did not come back this season, and John Mulaney joined Paula Pell as a part-time contributor. One writer returned to the show after a seven-year absence (Joe Kelly, most recently a writer/producer for How I Met Your Mother). Neil Casey and Josh Patten joined the staff, and, beginning in February, a slew of guest writers were brought aboard for brief stints, including Chelsea Peretti, Cora Frazier, Michael Che, Edi Patterson, Monica Padrick and Kids In The Hall alum Kevin McDonald (Che was later added to the regular roster for the May shows).
The season was fairly uneven, though, with more pronounced highs and lows than SNL's experienced in a few years. There were a greater number of outright duds this year (the Mountain Pass sketch from Louis CK comes to mind), yet the stumbles felt more like the show was losing its fear of failure that made the last couple of seasons a little too safe and antiseptic. In a way, this actually came off as promising. There were also enough flashes of inspiration, including the Mike O'Brien-penned short film "Sad Mouse" and two-part sketches like Tim Robinson's "Z Shirts" and Seth Meyers' "Darrell's House" that imbued this season with a freshness not seen in a while.
The show has always had castmembers come and go to varying levels of fanfare, but it seems that the big emotional farewell for a departing player has become de rigeur in recent years. Phil Hartman's 1994 send-off featured the show's recurring characters performing a variant of "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound Of Music. Will Ferrell's 2002 departure was marked by the cast (except for Tracy Morgan) speaking out-of-character about how he'll be missed. What turned out to be Darrell Hammond's final show didn't have an explicit tribute, but the cameo-filled full-cast "Goodnight Saigon" performance felt uncharacteristically emotional to be just a random Will Ferrell sketch. The Kristen Wiig "graduation ceremony" at the end of Mick Jagger's show last season seemed to outdo all these earlier goodbyes; despite Wiig being such a divisive castmember for a lot of fans, the emotional displays of from her colleagues made her swan song all the more moving.
I touched on the news of Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Seth Meyers' departures from SNL in my last post. Hader and Armisen both got their goodbyes last night; unlike Wiig, both performers chose to say their goodbyes in character. Hader's farewell was one last Stefon appearance on Weekend Update, culminating in a pre-taped segment of Seth Meyers racing through New York to stop the club promoter's wedding to Anderson Cooper a la The Graduate. Armisen used the show's 10-to-1 to perform an understated farewell tune as his Thatcherite punk character Ian Rubbish, with Hader, Killam and Sudeikis as the Bizarros, and cameos by Aimee Mann, Michael Penn, J. Mascis, Kim Gordon, Sex Pistol Steve Jones, and Armisen's Portlandia collaborator Carrie Brownstein. SNL is not a show that often features genuine emotion very often: when it does, such as last night, the results are amazing and devastating.
With the departures of Hader and Armisen, Meyers' impending move to the Late Night desk, and the rumored exit of Jason Sudiekis, last night's show truly felt like the end of an era for Saturday Night Live. Even if Meyers sticks around to ease the transition to the next Weekend Update anchor and head writer, he will seem more like a vestige of a prior version of SNL than a full-fledged member of the new guard.
I wrote last year about how SNL was showing signs of severe creative fatigue, with an over-reliance on recurring material, and a higher number of disappointing shows than in seasons past.I mentioned that unless the show took steps to fix some of these very noticeable signs of wear, the show is only going to get worse. SNL is still sick.I would argue it's a bit worse than last season, ever so subtly.There weren't any violently obvious symptoms like with last season, but the times when it appears to be firing on all cylinders are fewer and further between.
The staleness has been lingering for years now and the stench is starting to get pungent.At least when the show was at its worst they took quick emergency measures to fix the show.I do hope for next year that the creative powers-that-be realize they need to operate, or we're going to watch the show suffer and decay even further.Read More
This is my last part in my series of posts about the 2009-2010 season of SNL.If I blog about SNL any more during the summer hiatus I'm going to focus on earlier seasons and episodes.I plan on doing reviews of an earlier season during the summer, but I wanted to give some final thoughts on the castmembers and the shows this year.I've said before that the writing was the big problem on the show, but I wanted to get in depth on the individual castmembers' performances this year.I also wanted to highlight a few of the standout moments of this year, both good and bad.Read More
Last week, I presented the possibility that the SNL cast and writers would have used up all their energy on the Betty White show.This week seems to have confirmed that theory, with an episode not only underwhelming by Alec Baldwin's usually high standards but for a season finale in general.I don't know if they were expecting that Baldwin's presence alone could elevate mediocre material (to be fair, he did help somewhat) or if it was just exhaustion on everyone's part, but either way the finale was another letdown in a season full of them.Read More
The current SNL season is almost finished, and by and large it's been a dissapointment.It's not quite at the point it was in the infamously bad seasons (1980-81, 1994-95), but after coming off a particularly strong 2008-09 season (buoyed in part by Tina Fey's cameo appearances as Sarah Palin), the drop in quality is still noticable and that if things don't get fixed soon, it's going to get worse.For the most part this year has actually had at least one funny sketch per show.But the cracks are visible and unless something changes over the summer, next year could have the makings of another bad year on the level of 1994-95, when the show could no longer successfully navigate the line that divides the uninspired and the terrible.Read More