Saturday Night Live will look pretty different in September, as this past weekend's season finale saw the departure of mainstay favorites Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. Armisen was on the show for 11 years and Hader for eight, so their exits leave a pretty large hole in the cast. And then there are the persistent rumors that Jason Sudeikis is likely to quit the show too, meaning SNL is potentially losing a third of its repertory players, not to mention the imminent departure of Seth Meyers for Late Night. There are, in other words, going to be a lot of new faces around Studio 8H.
To my mind, the biggest loss of the bunch is Armisen. Weird and occasionally cerebral (a mode that's better showcased on Portlandia), Armisen was the indie/Brooklyn-y cast member. Which might sound like an insult, but is really not meant to be. Armisen often went broad and ridiculous, but also had an insightful, exacting side, a real specificity to his humor, that will be sorely missed on the show. No one else in the remaining cast seems quite as interested in doing that kind of humor-of-the-particular, but the still frustratingly underused Kate McKinnon has offered hints of an intellectual weirdness that we should see more of. I like Saturday Night Live when it's big and silly, but it was also fun having Armisen around, being a bit more sly, tweaking things in subtler ways. Here's hoping they let McKinnon really go for it next year, and that they hire someone else with those sorts of vaguely -- yes I'm going to say it -- hipstery interests.
For a long time Hader was best known for two things: impersonations that were a little gonzo while still accurate enough, and goofy straight-men (game show hosts and the like). But then he found a hit character in club wraith Stefon and he became one of the staples of the Weekend Update desk. With his rubbery, malleable face and boggling vocal range, he was a multi-use player who always seemed game and genial. I think the closest current analogue on the show is Taran Killam, who has the same kind of wacked-out wholesomeness. Killam is used a fair deal these days, but he hasn't quite been given a chance to truly stand out. (He doesn't appear in desk segments all that often, for example.) It's also a little weird that they have him playing a particular kind of gay man so often — it feels repetitive and occasionally problematic, as if he and the writers think he "does gay well." Stefon was a specific character, these other characters are just random gay dudes who all sound the same. I don't know, it's a minor gripe. Given the opportunity, Killam could move to the top of the food chain next season and I'd be happy about it.
Which is supposed to be the way of things on Saturday Night Live, isn't it? That people move up after putting in the work. Keenan Thompson finally got to the top of the heap after nearly a decade of working hard on the sidelines, though he's still doesn't have quite as much heat as other cast members. Maybe because he doesn't work outside the show terribly often. Bobby Moynihan seems poised to break out bigger soon, on the strength of his popular Drunk Uncle character and because these other guys are leaving, clearing the way. The women's side is strong, with Vanessa Bayer getting more attention than she used to and Cecily Strong proving a good addition, while McKinnon finishes out her first full season in good (if, again, underused) form. I'm not so sure about Aidy Bryant, or her fellow Featured cast member Tim Robinson. Him especially. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he can do with another year, but he really didn't do anything this season. I'd have to say the same thing about Jay Pharoah, who is an uncanny impressionist but is somehow never that funny.
So there is a lot of room to fill, and while some current cast members are waiting in the wings, ready to take the lead, that means we've got to restock the other shelves. Who should join the company? I'll offer some suggestions tomorrow.