Thursday, December 25, 2014

Self-Indulgent Post of the Week: Saturday Night Live, Season 40

As a fan of Saturday Night Live since I was a kid, I have become more and more aware of how great certain sketch comedians are . . . and how quickly others fade into oblivion. That discrepancy seems to have been made blatantly obvious over the past couple seasons, the last of which - season 39 - included a lot of cast turnover. New cast members pop up every year, but SNL seems to be in rebuilding mode recently. Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Jason Sudeikis all left before season 39, and then Seth Meyers left in the middle of the year. After the season finished, John Milhiser, Nasim Pedrad, Noel Wells, and Brooks Wheelan all left or got fired; the only one of those with any talent whoatsoever seemed to be Pedrad.

Now it's season 40, and there are still some decent talents hanging around but nobody who seems like a future star. In the days of yore, it seemed SNL always featured a guy or girl with enough charisma to move on to his or her own talk show, comedy, movies, etc. There are some people I really like, but nobody who looks like a Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley, Kristen Wiig, etc.

So after watching the first half of the season, here are the current SNL actors from best to worst:

Bobby Moynihan: Moynihan doesn't have the same kind of physical presence as Chris Farley or John Belushi, but he has taken that chubby guy role and done some great things with it. He's good at improvising if things go sideways, and his facial contortions help him sell his characters. My favorites are Anthony Crispino - who's pretty sure his secondhand news is accurate - and Drunk Uncle, with some Kirby the Astronaut mixed in.

Kate McKinnon: McKinnon has "crazy eyes" that make her a little off-putting and intriguing at the same time. Her impressions are unmatched on the current show, and she goes over the top just enough with her takes on Justin Bieber, Ellen DeGeneres, and Martha Stewart, among others. She's probably the most consistent actor on the show in committing to the sketch and staying in character.

Pete Davidson: Davidson is my favorite new-ish actor on the show. He's only 21 years old and so he shows his immaturity by occasional breaks in character, but he looks comfortable on stage and delivers his lines with an underlying energy like Jimmy Fallon or Adam Sandler. (Interesting note: Davidson's father was a firefighter who was tragically killed during the September 11th attacks.)

Kenan Thompson: Early in his career I thought Thompson was pretty bad, because he seemed to break character left and right. Now he's been around forever (he joined the cast in 2003 and has stuck around longer than Grandpa Tim Meadows), and he has grown on me. He still breaks character sometimes, but the creator of the knucklepuck has developed enough lovable roles to make him a comfortable sight on Saturday nights.

Taran Killam: Killam is pretty skilled impressionist, and he's currently the "good looking" guy on the roster who can play the role of a Hollywood leading man or a goofball. He's no match for Darrell Hammond at doing impressions, but he's versatile enough to fit into almost any sketch.

Cecily Strong: Strong is someone I can see becoming a supporting actress in movies or TV shows. She's good looking enough to make a passable Hollywood actress, she's pretty versatile with her characters, and she's relatable enough to make her a sympathetic character.

Colin Jost: Jost is the head writer and a standup comedian. After some early snafus, he has become pretty solid as an anchor on Weekend Update. Some of his deliveries are similar to those of Norm McDonald, and he has the face to make a convincing news anchor. He doesn't seem to have the same improvisational chops as some of the former anchors (Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers), so I can't see him moving to his own talk show. But he seems like a good writer and is coming into his own as a performer.

Vanessa Bayer: Bayer is a good bit player who can make a cute girl or play an androgynous role like, say, a Jewish boy. You need good glue girls like her.

Michael Che: Che has some funny moments as the co-host for Weekend Update. Unfortunately, he stumbles over the setups and punchlines so often that he's very inconsistent. For every joke that succeeds, at least one fails because the timing gets thrown off.

Aidy Bryant: Bryant is in her third year on the show, and while I liked her at first, her act has gotten a little stale for me. She plays essentially the same person in all of her skits, and her best one - co-host of Girlfriends Talk Show - has run its course. She has her funny moments, but she's too one-dimensional.

Jay Pharaoh: Pharaoh - whose Barack Obama impersonation has improved over the years - has never impressed me. You have to have someone around who can impersonate the President, so I guess he's necessary. But the guy just isn't that funny. Almost every impression he does is sold only by the people doing his makeup and costumes.

Sasheer Zamata: I have a feeling I will forget about her in a few years. Kind of like how you forgot about Paul Brittain.

Beck Bennett: Bennett's best professional moments came in AT&T commercials talking to little kids. Otherwise, his best role is Casey, a local skating talk-show host. Generally, he's too stilted and awkward and monotone to be of much use.

Kyle Mooney: As Bennett's co-star on the skating talk show, Mooney isn't atrocious. He makes an acceptable stoner. That's about all I can say for him. His impressions are disasters.

Leslie Jones:
 Leslie Jones is terrible and one-dimensional. I'm not quite sure why she was added to the cast, but I would be happy if she did not return for season 41.


  1. ... You still watch SNL?

    Yikes. There are much, much, much... much, much, much... MUCH better ways to waste your time, my friend.

    1. And there's much, much, MUCH worse as well. To each their own.

  2. I enjoy Leslie Jones when she gives relationship advice. I do think Pete will be the new star and Jost and Che are finally coming into their own. I am worried that the 40th anniversary event in Feb, it will be announced the show is retiring at end of season.

  3. I'll always have a soft spot for SNL considering that I grew up with the Sandler, Spade, Farley, Mike Myers, Lovitz, Carvey crew. Then that rolled right into the Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Hammond, Fallon, Parnell crew. However, as much as I try to sit down and watch it the last 2-3 years, I find it to be unwatchable unless Louis CK is hosting and then he can contribute writing and carry the show.

  4. SNL poached Michael Che too early from The Daily Show. His timing was ok on TDS but another year or 2 with that crew and I think you'd be seeing an entirely different comedian.