Saturday Night Light Live began its forty-second season with the surest bet in television. The show's most dynamic cast member, Kate McKinnon, was poised to play the next president and Alec Baldwin would briefly lampoon Donald Trump during the election cycle. Instead, McKinnon's Hillary impression has been mothballed and Baldwin is suddenly the most popular actor affiliated with the show.
As SNL closed its season last night with performances from Dwayne Johnson and Katy Perry, the show ends in a state of transition. Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer, two of the show’s longest-tenured players, are departing and the next nucleus of players is forming. Despite an unexpected change of events, SNL ultimately harnessed the chaos of political events to turn in a good season with strong writing. Here is a snapshot of SNL Season 42 and a look towards potential changes for next year:
Changing Cast: Shuffling cast members between seasons is not new for SNL. The preseason dismissal of two important cast members, Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam, was very surprising. SNL creator Lorne Michaels brought in Mikey Day, Alex Moffat, and Melissa Villaseñor as new featured players. All three appeared very early on in the season, although only Day and Moffat have consistently appeared in sketches throughout Season 42.
So far the biggest known casting challenges for next season will be replacing longtime cast members Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer. Moynihan is leaving after nine seasons for the new CBS sitcom, Me, Myself, & I. Bayer is the show's longest-serving female cast member.
Donald Trump: Politicians and elections have been a consistent source of material and rejuvenation for SNL. The show made a significant change prior to Season 42 by allowing Alex Baldwin to take over from Darrell Hammond as the show’s Trump impressionist. The show made fun of the election early and often and appeared ready to begin wrapping up its coverage of the unparalleled 2016 election. When they staged a cold open where Trump and Hillary Clinton traded barbs, only to have Baldwin and McKinnon become exasperated with the chaos of politics, SNL seemed poised to have reached the end of Trump sketches. Since the election subsided, Baldwin’s Trump impression has become the most viral aspect of SNL and has made an appearance in nearly every episode.
The biggest hurdle SNL will face between now and the start of Season 43 is how to lampoon politics in America. Despite the popularity of these sketches, the show risks becoming too political. It must find a balance between keeping an eye on the Beltway and staying fresh. As the season concludes it is unknown if Baldwin will retire the impression. The final pieces of this puzzle may come from Washington as the rapid pace of events may be difficult to plan for in advance.
Weekend Update: Michael Che and Colin Jost have anchored Weekend Update for three years and finally appear to have developed a cohesive chemistry. When they first began together they lacked a solid approach that did not play well. Over time they have developed an uneven approach involving some verbal jest that has slowly matured into their signature style.
Michael Che still struggles to read cue cards. At times the flubbed lines have led to some funny moments, but he has also continued to fumble more than his fair share of punchlines in the process. Che is a talented writer. His Black Jeopardy sketch is one of the funniest of the season. Che needs to hone his delivery to solidify Weekend Update. When lines are dropped as often as they have been the most reliable segment of the show becomes painfully awkward and can make the pairing seem interminable.
Hosts: SNL closed out the season by welcoming two hosts to the Five-Timers Club: Melissa McCarthy and Dwayne Johnson, with The Rock becoming the first minority to ever host the show five times. The season had a strong run of hosts, including Tom Hanks, Dave Chapelle, Emma Stone, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The 2016-17 slate of hosts was well-balanced, although bringing more new hosts into the fold would help pump fresh blood into SNL. While the veteran hosts likely bolstered the show this year, bringing in new faces like Key & Peele, Rachel Bloom, or Hannibal Burress could help transition the show to a new level.
The Current Cast: Newcomers Mikey Day and Alex Moffat are certain to return next season and the talented Melissa Villaseñor may be able to lend her gift for impressions more frequently in Season 43.
SNL’s women remain its most outstanding players. McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Sasheer Zamata have performed a central role in a large percentage of the show’s most successful sketches and videos. Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney also turned in solid seasons. Perhaps being given greater opportunity following her role in Ghostbusters, Leslie Jones may have turned in her best year yet on SNL. She appeared more often and in a wider range of roles. Hopefully SNL’s writers continue to give Jones the opportunity to grow.
Pete Davidson had a strong debut three seasons ago, although he has not shown much growth beyond his pot smoking kid brother persona. A greater variety of roles next year would allow Davidson to provide a greater contribution to the show.