The Current ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Could Really Use a Star

Where have you gone, Will Ferrell?
The Current ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Could Really Use a Star

I recently saw a poll on an unofficial Saturday Night Live social media account that asked, “Who is your cast member MVP for Season 49?” 

I thought about it for 30 seconds before concluding, “There isn’t one.”

The most-watched SNL sketches on YouTube this season were host-driven, from Pete Davidson’s “I’m Just Pete” to Nate Bargatze’s “Washington’s Dream.” The year’s most viral bit was Ryan Gosling’s Beavis and Butt-Head sketch, which scored thanks to Gosling and Heidi Gardner’s inability to keep a straight face around the ludicrous wigs and makeup. I’d love to credit Mikey Day for his Butt-Head work, but the unrecognizable comic barely spoke. 

Kenan Thompson held down the fort as usual, always a steady hand but with no breakout character or sketch to show for his efforts. (He literally winked at the year’s mediocrity on the final show, singing that everyone should chill out since most of Season 49’s sketches were “fine.”)

Bowen Yang got more screen time this year. Marcello Hernandez is emerging as the standout from last year’s new bunch. And Sarah Sherman found a few more opportunities for gross-out theatrics. But it’s hard to pinpoint a defining moment for any of them. 

Where was their “More Cowbell”? Or “Dooneese” or “Wayne’s World”? Season 49, like all SNL seasons, had its share of hilarious sketches and mediocre misses. ‘Twas ever thus. But this year didn’t even have a “Lisa from Temecula,” last year’s sketch that finally let Ego Nwodim shine. 

As recently as the 2010s, SNL’s cast was dotted with talents like Bill (Barry) Hader, Kate (Barbie) McKinnon, Jason (Ted Lasso) Sudeikis and Kristen (Bridesmaids) Wiig, cementing the show’s reputation as a star maker. Before them, NBC made Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey the faces of a network. Go back another generation and Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon were on the cover of Rolling Stone. Will any of this year’s cast members see similar success? Anything’s possible, but the prospect seems unlikely.

Where did the stars go? There are a couple of explanations, but no matter which conclusion you draw, the finger eventually points back to Lorne Michaels. The first hypothesis is that Michaels has done a lousy job of casting, but I suspect that isn’t the case. Nearly every comic in the current cast has had a moment on the show, so actual talent doesn’t seem to be the issue. Instead, the problem is that moments for any individual cast member are too few and far between. 

Yep, we’re back to “the cast is too damn big” argument. Chloe Fineman might knock it out of the park one week, then go missing on the side of a milk carton for a month. That cast featuring Wiig, Hader and Sudeikis? Back in Season 35, it had eight members. In Season 49, there were 12, plus five more featured players and the (mostly) weekly antics of Please Don’t Destroy. That’s 20.

If you believe Malcolm Gladwell’s maxim that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve true expertise, what is Molly Kearney supposed to do with the 36 seconds of screentime they got in the season finale? Screentime stats from the SNL Network show seven cast members got less than three minutes to be funny in the Jake Gyllenhaal show. You could put on a 1990s SNL episode with that many comics. 

From the strt, SNL has been a star-driven show. People tuned in to watch John Belushi, Eddie Murphy or Dana Carvey, not to see which politician would get the cold-open treatment. As the show moves into Season 50, it needs megawatt stars more than ever. Instead, we have an overstuffed team of utility players desperately in search of an MVP.


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