You couldn’t blame Luke Null and Lauren Holt if they’re just a teeny bit resentful. The two comics, recently featured players on Saturday Night Live (in case you’ve forgotten, seasons 43 and 46, respectively), barely got a chance to introduce themselves to the comedy-viewing public. According to the number-crunchers over at The Saturday Night Network, Null and Holt each appeared in a career total of 36 sketches, tying them on the all-time list with two people who weren’t even in the dang cast (that’s crew member Nil Nichols and band bassist T. Bone Wolk). The indignity! 

Why didn’t Null and Holt (and other barely seen featured players) get a fair shot? There is a d***-in-a-box full of possibilities: Recent bloated casts that made air time hard to come by? Mediocre sketch characters that just didn’t connect? Gambling debts owed to Colin Jost? All possibilities, but something different seems to be in the air this year at SNL, a change in philosophy that’s giving the current freshmen class more than a fair chance to show their stuff.

Exhibit A? How about “New Cast Advice,” a five-minute pre-filmed bit exclusively focused on newbies Michael Longfellow, Devon Walker, Marcello Hernández, and Molly Kearney that aired on this season’s second episode. 

It’s not the first time SNL has devoted show time to introducing featured cast -- the New Cast Member or Arcade Fire? game show parody back in 2013 helped welcome Kyle Mooney, Noël Wells, and Mike O’Brien. But that sketch was a showcase for Kenan and Tina Fey, not the new kids who were shouted down every time they tried to speak. “You get no lines!” bellowed Kenan. “That’s something you’ve got to earn!” Anonymity was the joke--the kids’ names weren’t even mentioned. Even Lorne Michaels, appearing as himself, had no idea who they were.

The game plan has shifted. This year’s featured players are getting the spotlight, ostensibly because they “bring things we don’t have and they’re complementary to the people we already have,” says producer Lorne Michaels. “The new people could last for years.” 

And the numbers bear out what our eyes are seeing -- The Saturday Night Network’s Mike Murray told Cracked that of recent rookies, only last season’s James Austin Johnson got off to a faster start than Walker and Longfellow, largely due to his extended turn as President Biden in the season opener. All four new performers this year got more early shine than current cast members Andrew Dismukes, Punkie Johnson, and Chloe Fineman when they started--those three performers’ combined screentime wasn’t close to what Devon Walker alone saw through his first handful of episodes.

Are the new kids really better than featured players in years past? At least we’re getting the chance to find out. Through the season’s first four shows, here’s where Michael, Devon, Marcello, and Molly stand.

Molly Kearney

Of all the neophytes, Kearney has been the standout so far, if only for their hilarious turn in the “New Cast Advice” sketch as a would-be Putin assassin. The obvious comp is Melissa McCarthy, not so much for the mild physical resemblance but for their complete and total commitment to the bit. “I go to call an Uber,” they exclaim, “but I can’t because they burnt my fingertips off!” Molly scored again this week with a drunk Dora the Explorer who can only slur the words “Tom Brady.” Even when they’re playing the straight role and setting up the jokes for others, Kearney has a Farley-esque enthusiasm that lifts the energy level of the whole shebang. 

Marcello Hernández

It’s been a rotating rookie-cast-member chair on Weekend Update, with every new novice save Kearney (for now) getting a chance to introduce themselves to America. They’re not playing goofy characters--instead, they appear as themselves in a ploy Lorne Michaels learned back in the Bill Murray days. You could call it “you’re really going to like the new guy.”

Of all the Weekend Update bits, Hernández has made the biggest impression. His take on Latino domination of the Major League Baseball playoffs brought down the house. “It’s all hips,” he explains about the Dominican batting stance. “Do you feel that, Colin?” (Colin indeed feels it.) 

Next to Kearney, Marcello also got the best bits in the New Cast Advice sketch as the guy who Lorne is telling to relax and stay home for a few months. Marcello hasn’t received as much airtime as Devon and Michael, but when he gets his occasional turn at the plate, he knocks it out of the park. 

Devon Walker

Walker got his turn on the Weekend Update desk during the Megan Thee Stallion episode, and the result was prime Walker thus far--not outrageously funny but somehow eminently likable. In four episodes, Walker has shown none of Kenan’s range or go-to facial reactions, but the two comics share an amiability that bodes well for Devon’s future. As he desperately wants the ladies on the street to understand, “I’m regular.”

Other than his season-opening turn as viral video star Corn Kid, “regular” has been Walker’s go-to move. That’s not an insult. That everyman quality has him showing up in more sketches than any of the other featured players--a guy who burns himself with a sizzling iron after hearing about Kanye antics in “So You Think You Won’t Snap,” a smart kid in a S.T.E.M class, pleasant supporting guy in “We Got Brought” and “Deer,” and a crooning Frank Ocean covering Billy’s Caribbean Queen. In the Meghan Thee Stallion episode, he got the third-most screen time of any player, a luxury never afforded to a Jon Rudnitsky or Brooks Whelan. Impressive start, rookie!

Michael Longfellow

Longfellow was the first to get his shot on the Update desk, sharing dirt on conservative, anti-vax family members. The bit goes over fine, even eliciting applause at some of his punchlines.

Beyond that, it’s hard to know exactly who Longfellow is going to be as a sketch player. He wore funny prosthetics as Adam Schiff in a January 6 committee sketch …

Broadway Video

So much forehead.

… and like Walker, he’s showing up in straight-man supporting roles during sketches like “Headshots” and “Eyeballs.” For now, he seems to slot in the Alex Moffat space as Reasonably Good Looking Guy Who Can Blend Into Most Any Sketch. Unfortunately for Goodfellow, that’s just the seat that Andrew Dismukes seems to have claimed on the SNL bus. Based on the slim evidence so far, Longfellow might actually be a more confident, relaxed version of Dismukes -- but Andrew has seniority on his side for now.

Where do we go from here? Expect one or more of the rookies to break out even more, while a couple inevitably fade into the background. But as evidenced in this week’s Jack Harlow episode -- with “Halloween Red Carpet Show” giving each rookie another small spotlight -- Lorne is going to give the New Kids every chance to succeed.

Top image: Broadway Video

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