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Archive for July, 2012

The Idiot Box

Posted by Jeff on July 18, 2012

In case you missed it, Saturday Night Live is losing two cast members (so far) that have, in their own ways, had a profound effect on the show over the past seven years.  Rumors continue that a third long time cast members may be leaving but no official word has come as of yet.  As most of you know I am a true SNL fan.  I have been since the mid eighties when Eddie Murphy was holding court.  Since then I have suffered through some stinker years but SNL also has good years, mediocre years, and great years.  While this past season has not been what I would classify as great, it was good (hopefully you saw the incredibly well-written and perfect SNL skewering of the Jeremy Lin press coverage) and it caps off the SNL run of the incredible Kristen Wiig and the game-changing Andy Samberg.  This edition of the Idiot Box will highlight these two and also cover those that remain (or might be leaving) but truly this will be my love letter to Kristen Wiig.  I admit this so… you were warned.

Note:  Most of these links are to SNL sketches featuring the performers or sketches described.  As SNL normally airs after kids go to bed, most are pretty much… NSFW.

Confirmed Leaving

Kristen Wiig (2005-2012)

Kristen Wiig

Kristen Wiig will go down as perhaps the greatest female performer on SNL ever.  Seventies purists will argue Gilda Radner or Jane Curtain but they just did not have the ability to create completely unforgettable and hilarious characters like Wiig.  I don’t recall any repertory player getting a sendoff like hers back in May.  A fitting tribute.  I can’t wait until her first time back as host.

Memorable characters:  the rabbit hunting A-Hole from the Two A-Holes sketches, the neurotic topper Penelope,  the hideous, baby-handed sister from the Lawrence Welk sketches, the Target Lady,  Michelle Bachman and Nancy Pelosi

Already miss:  Lawrence Welk sketches

I’ll never miss:  Gilly… The only character she ever did that I unequivocally cannot stand.

Andy Samberg (2005-2012)

Andy Samberg actually came to SNL as a package deal. Normally that would strike fear. (Ever had a new boss that brought a “trusted former

Andy Samberg as Mark Zuckerberg with Zuckerberg

colleague” with him?)  But in this case, Samberg came with his long time comedy partners, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone.  Samberg became a featured player; the latter two were writers for the show.  Together they created the now legendary Digital Shorts which started with “Lazy Sunday” and then completely blew up with “D*ck in a Box.” (Unedited version – NSFW.)

While his Digital Shorts were clearly his best work, Samberg really come into his own with impersonations.  Towards the end of his tenure his impressions of Mark Zuckerberg and Nicolas Cage were spot-on hilarious.

Memorable characters:  singer from D*ck in a Box, T-Shane from Deep House Dish, Zuckerberg and Cage

Already Miss: Digital Shorts

I’ll never miss: Blizzard Man, his tragically bad R&B backup singer character.  Wasn’t funny.

Rumored Leaving

Jason Sudeikis (2005-present)

Jason Sudeikis (left as Pete Twinkle) with Will Forte

The rumors of Wiig and Samberg leaving that started back in April invariably included Jason Sudeikis.  Sudeikis actually started at SNL as a writer in 2003.  He made spot appearances but did not become a featured player until 2005 when he first made people howl as the male A-Hole in the aforementioned 2 A-Holes sketches with Kristen Wiig. Sudeikis’ characters are usually more straight man roles but his Pete Twinkle character has stood out as one of his best as he rambles through feminine hygiene ads during play-by-play for 80’s and 90’s fringe sports like women’s bowling on ESPN Classic.

Sudeikis has hinted recently of a departure but the reason that Lorne Michaels and company may be trying to keep him around is that he is currently portraying Mitt Romney in political sketches which usually serve as the cold open for the show.  For many people this is the only sketch they see before going to bed.  Sudeikis has honed his Romney pretty well and presidential election years are typically the best for SNL. He could be replaced of course (Darrell Hammond took over for Phil Hartman as Clinton) but I think this may be what’s holding him back from leaving.  Perhaps they can work out a deal like Tina Fey had when she left but still came back to do her diabolically funny Sarah Palin impression.

The Old Guard

Seth Meyers (2001-present)

Did you know that next year Seth Meyers will become the second longest tenured cast member ever? (Behind Darrell Hammond)  Meyers serves mostly as head writer but he still anchors Weekend Update as well. Current rumors also have him as a finalist to take Regis’ spot next to Kelly Ripa.  He says no. We’ll see.

Fred Armisen (2002-present)

Fred Armisen as Stuart from The Californians sketch

Fred Armisen burst onto SNL with a Show Biz Grande Explosión! character named Fericito.  Since then he has established a number of other memorable characters like Garth the woefully unprepared singer on Weekend Update, Nicholas Fehn, the news commentator that doesn’t really ever say anything and most recently as Stuart in the Californians, a Soap Net parody.  Armisen also does a serviceable job as President Obama.  He has the voice and look down but Obama does not provide the kind of opportunities that his predecessors did in terms of giving a satirist something to work with.

Kenan Thompson (2003-present)

Keenan Thompson as Tiger Woods

This former Nickelodeon kids show actor has grown up a lot on SNL. Kenan Thompson has gotten stronger in both characters and impressions over the years.  His Tiger Woods impression during the divorce year was funny enough to excuse his lack of physical similarities.  Thompson is not great with voices but his comedic timing is unmatched and the writers are giving him more and more good material to work with.

Bill Hader (2005-present)

Bill Hader as Stephon on Weekend Update

Now that Kristen Wiig is gone, Bill Hader is my new favorite on the show.  Hader started out mostly as an impressionist with James Carville and Clint Eastwood being two of his best.

He did have one good recurring character, Vinny Vedecci, the chain smoking Italian talk show host who struggled through interviews with the guest hosts that didn’t speak Italian.  But lately it has been 80 year old curmudgeon news reporter Herb Welch and Weekend Update’s City Correspondent, Stefon that leave me laughing.  Hader’s Stefon is the one charatcer/skit that has consistently made me laugh until I could not breathe.  It requires numerous pauses on the DVR.  Hader has incredible range too.  He is just as funny in satirical roles like the Jeremy Lin sketch referred to earlier.  To top it all off, Hader is notorious for cracking up in character. Much like Jimmy Fallon used to be, when the joke is great even Hader can’t stop himself which just makes the whole thing funnier.

 

The New Guard

Bobby Moynihan (2008-present)

If I wrote this in the summer of 2010, I would have predicted that Bobby Moynihan was gone.  His first two years were fairly unremarkable.  Then came Snooki.  Moynihan started portraying the over tanned Jersey Shore cast member on Weekend Update and people responded.  Now he has two more recurring W.U. characters, Anthony Crispino and Drunk Uncle.  He also did a nice job as Newt Gingrich and Guy Fieri.

Abby Elliot (2008-present)

Another cast member I was ready to write off.  The daughter of former cast member and David Letterman writer, Chris Elliot, Abby is more of an impressionist than a character player.  Lately her Zooey Deschanel impression has been fun.

Nasim Pedrad (2009-present)

Nasim Pedrad is falling into the same hole that so many other female performers on SNL have.  She plays tons of characters but none stands out so at the end of the season you wonder, “who is she again?”

Vanessa Bayer (2010-present)

Vanessa Bayer is similar to Pedrad in terms of not standing out except for her impression of Miley Cyrus.  It is dead on and funny.  Unfortunately unless Cyrus gets into a Lindsay Lohan lifestyle, there won’t be much opportunity for ripe satire. (See Armisen as Obama.)

Taran Killam (2010-present)

There are two heirs-apparent on SNL in my book.  Taran Killam is the first.  Killam stepped up big time this past season with great impressions of Piers Morgan, Tim Tebow, and Rush Limbaugh.  He also shows off some fancy dancing moves in the “Les Jeunes de Paris” sketches.  SNL is Killam’s second run at sketch comedy.  He starred on MADtv previously.

Jay Pharoah (2010-present)

The second heir-apparent might be Jay Pharoah.  When he was first cast last season the internet was buzzing based on his impression of Barack Obama which was popular on YouTube.  Since being cast, he has demonstrated dead-on versions of Denzel Washington, Will Smith and Jay Z.  Until Armisen leaves the show (and provided Obama is still president) we won’t get to see his work as the leader of the free world.  But until then we seems to be willing to stick to what he does and take on straight man roles in other sketches.

Kate McKinnon (2012-present)

Kate McKinnon joined the cast late in the 2011-2012 season after the departure of Paul Brittain.  She only appeared in one month’s worth of shows but she skewered Penelope Cruz in this hilarious sketch.

The loss of Wiig and Samberg is going to be hard on SNL at first.  Samberg will be missed but mostly in the loss of the digital shorts.  Wiig’s dependability, sheer comedic originality and energy will be hard to replace.  Longtime Executive Producer Lorne Michaels has done pretty well over the past 10 years in finding new talent and with two openings, I am sure he will be excited to find the next Not Ready For Primetime Players.  I’ll keep an open mind but I know I am going to miss Kristen Wiig.

I miss Kristen.
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