Reviewing the new cast on SNL

saturday_night_live(2)BY TROY PHILLIPS

Even though Saturday Night Live has been one of the longest lasting shows on TV and continues to average around 7 million viewers every week, it is still widely acknowledged to be a stepping stone on the journey towards movie and television stardom for aspiring actors.

Put it this way: Know who the longest tenured actor in SNL was? There are so many actors over the years who have become iconic in the minds of Americans that have broadcasted live from New York during their careers. For those of you that guessed names like Jim Belushi, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Eddie Murphy or Amy Poehler, you’re obviously not catching my drift, because the answer is Darrell Hammond (13 years), followed by Tim Meadows (9.5) and Kevin Nealon (9.5). All three are respectable actors, don’t get me wrong, but none of the three can hold a candle to anyone on that first laundry list of names. Change has become as much a part of regular SNL culture as Weekend Update. Viewers in need of personnel consistency are not fans of SNL, or are not bound to be for long. Tenured fans realize that the constant turnover, although sometimes frustrating, is actually a benchmark for the success of the producers in hiring talent. The more in-demand actors that leave in search of greener pastures, more chapters are likely to be added to the packed volume of SNL success stories that has helped the show sustain its’ reputation as a late night mainstay for the last 38 years.

A new batch of actors have made their way onto the set as featured players this season (season 38) to fill the void left by the departures of centerpieces Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg as well as lesser known players Abby Elliot and Paul Brittain. The four newcomers –which I have expanded to include  Season 37  late arrival Kate McKinnon — have the potential to revitalize a cast in need of support. I’m going to take into account how each actor has performed thus far as well as the likelihood that they can sustain a pedigree of success in a variety of roles to determine an overall letter grade. If all goes well, the best among them will be on their way out in no time. That’s just how things work in the world of sketch comedy.

Kate McKinnon

McKinnon’s comedic career took off in 2007 when she joined the cast of Big Gay Sketch Show and was a mainstay for all of its’ three seasons. She has also done voice over characters on The Venture Brothers, Robotomy, and Ugly Americans and was nominated for multiple rewards that honored up and coming comedians before signing on with SNL midway through its’ 37th season in 2012. McKinnon made a strong impression in her limited work during Season 37 but has earned a more consistent role during Season 38 and appears to be in line to fill some of Kristin Wiig’s maniacal void with her flare for impressions — the most acclaimed of which was her depiction of  Ellen Degeneres. McKinnon is quickly becoming a fan favorite and has carved out a nice niche in the cast as the female character willing to play ridiculous or self deprecating roles, and has a good chance of being integrated into the main cast heading into Season 39.  However, she hasn’t yet shown that she can be flexible in the greater variety of roles required for a main cast member, which stops her from receiving perfect marks.

Grade: B+

Tim Robinson

Robinson hails from Michigan and has spent time doing work with Second City and iO Theater in Chicago. After being involved in the pilot of a show called My Mans that was rejected by Comedy Central in 2011, he was chosen to join the Saturday Night Live cast in September 2012 at the beginning of the 38th season. Robinson has been integrated into the show very slowly but has done solid impressions of Bill Cowher and Cash Cab’s Ben Bailey. Based on his credentials and mannerisms Robinson seems poised to replace Andy Samberg in roles that call for overzealous acting, but hasn’t been used in such a capacity as of yet. Personally, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far from Robinson, but he might need to spend another season as a bit player before ascending into the ranks of core characters.

Grade: B-

Cecily Strong

Born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, Strong also spent time with iO as well as Second City before joining SNL at the beginning of this season. She has spent a significant amount of time on-screen for a feature actor and has made her way with new roles like The Girl Who you Wish you Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party but has also done an impression of Fran Drescher that was very believable. Strong brings back the eye-candy element that was somewhat lacking after Wiig’s departure, and has acted well in a variety of roles to boot. Of all of the new additions to the cast, Strong is my bet to be the most successful in the long run and should be upgraded to a full member of the cast no later than next season. Hopefully we are in store for plenty of memorable moments if she ends up doing well enough to pursue greener pastures.

Grade: A

Aidy Bryant

Nice to see that all three of the new Season 38 actors have ties to the Chicago comedy scene, as Bryant’s comedic work can also be linked to iO and Second City before moving to the Big Apple in 2012. Bryant is still finding her place, however, and the producers appear tentative in working her into the cast. She has done well with her awkward and insecure role in Girlfriend’s Talk Show, which also features Cecily Strong, and appears to be in line for more roles for the rest of the year. However, Bryant appears to be at the will of the writers, who must work to find roles that will accommodate her and allow her to shine. If they succeed, then Bryant could end up as the next Melissa McCarthy, but fail and she might not even make it to the main cast of SNL.

Grade: C+

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