Saturday Night Live
Season 42 launches October 1 with guest host Margot Robbie and musical guest The Weeknd. For close watchers of television’s most iconic sketch comedy show, here are six things to look for in the coming weeks and months to determine if Executive Producer Lorne Michaels has righted the ship after a mostly frustrating Season 41.
1. Back on the Write Path?
We’re a few months past SNL41 and it’s clear: last season’s writing felt out of sorts—dated, lumbering and strange. It was as if the show never quite decided what it was trying to do week to week. Some have pointed to the November 7 appearance of guest host Donald Trump as a kind of “jump the shark” moment. After Trump, the show felt lost for months…like it had host-inflicted PTSD. And though later in the season the show went all in against a rising Trump candidacy, it never quite came to terms with what Trump’s appearance—which effectively served to normalize Citizen Trump—meant for the show’s ability to bite.
For Season 42, Chris Kelly (writer-director of 2016’s indie gem Other People) and longtime writing partner Sarah Schneider have been promoted to co-head writers. The duo has reportedly been the creative driving force behind Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon’s best sketches (“Dyke and Fats,” “(Do It On My) Twin Bed”), and there is every reason to believe this will bring positive results for SNL42.
Watch to see if Kelly and Schneider are able to deliver consistency of comic voice, bring back true satirical bite, and effectively distribute great roles among their talented cast. It’s going to be up to them to bring surefootedness back to the wobbly show.
2. Bayer’s Farewell Tour?
2016-2017 will be Vanessa Bayer’s seventh season on the show, which would make it the last year on the standard seven-year contract she’s presumably been working under. And though Bobby Moynihan and Kenan Thompson have stayed on long past their expiration date (really, Kenan…it’s time to move on), look for Bayer to build on a very strong season last year (her best) and go out with a bang.
Should Bayer fade early—lack of screen time or new characters in favor of less tenured or younger cast members—it may be a sign that Kelly and Schneider have different ambitions for the show…which may be good for SNL, but bad for Bayer. Still, one hopes for a fond farewell season for one of the cast’s most consistently inventive and generous performers.
3. Welcome to the Family!
Three new featured players arrive at Studio 8H to replace veterans Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah, and one-and-done John Rudnitsky. The degree to which Mikey Day, Alex Moffat and Melissa Villaseñor are integrated into the cast will have major implications for how the season goes—especially when it hits the now-predictable January slump.
Mikey Day has been a staff writer for Saturday Night Live (and voice actor for Robot Chicken) in recent years, and should be ready to go. Alex Moffat comes via Chicago’s The Second City, a traditional gateway to SNL, but one that is fraught with rookie year adjustments to live television from the club stage. Impressionist Melissa Villaseñor (America’s Got Talent) is, perhaps, the most eagerly anticipated new cast member and will likely see action early. Villaseñor walks in the door with a must-see Owen Wilson impression (look for her Wilson in an early-season Weekend Update feature) as well as a solid Jennifer Lopez, serviceable Hillary Clinton, and a terrific Kristen Wiig.
4. Jost and Che Together Again
Colin Jost and Michael Che finally found a kind of workable rhythm reading the fake news last season, which bodes well for SNL42.
With an infinitely lampoonable presidential election dominating the news during Saturday Night Live’s early episodes, inspiration should flow freely, though the true test of this season’s Weekend Update is how the duo responds post-election—when half the county will be devastated and the other half incredibly defensive.
The United States is in a cultural simmer right now, and is headed for a rolling boil by Election Day. Whether President Trump or President Clinton is inaugurated next January, Weekend Update has the opportunity to become a more vital voice of satirical dissent than it’s been in the past…or, it can step back, focus on less political fare, and go gentle into that good night.
5. Election 2016 (and the Aftermath)
How SNL42 handles both the final months of the presidential campaign and the first few months of a new president’s term (not to mention a Barack Obama farewell) may be the show’s most crucial test.
The election has been contentious, with two of the most loathed candidates ever to be nominated by both parties in the modern era running full bore at each other. Last season, both candidates appeared on Saturday Night Live (as did then-candidate Bernie Sanders)—Hillary Clinton in a single sketch, Donald Trump as a full guest host. Both appearances served to blunt SNL’s ability to bite—how do you mock Trump or Clinton to their face on live television?
Hopefully, those stunt-casting shenanigans are in the past, and the show can get back to doing what it (should) do best: using incisive comedy to get at the truth of matters. Look for plenty of debate-themed cold-opens featuring Alec Baldwin’s Trump and Kate McKinnon’s Clinton…as well as a one-off Larry David as Bernie Sanders and a mid-season Jay Pharoah (or Fred Armisen?) return as Barack Obama in a farewell appearance.
6. Christmas Show Guest Host
With Lin-Manuel Miranda already announced for SNL42’s second episode, the best possible guest host for the show’s annual Christmas episode is off the table. Who Lorne Michaels does cast will say a lot about the season’s ultimate trajectory.
The mid-December episode has become Saturday Night Live’s most prestigious guest host slot, bigger even than the season opener and finale. It’s the moment when fans have pretty much figured out what they think of the current season—for well or ill. As such, it’s a chance for the show to get back on track or set the table for a great spring.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler co-hosted last season’s Christmas episode with Bruce Springsteen as musical guest. SNL40 booked Amy Adams and One Direction. The year before that saw Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.
Here’s hoping for a co-host/musical guest appearance from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, stars of the film La La Land—which opens nationwide on December 16—the same weekend as Rogue One (which will be huge, but doesn’t have a cast with Gosling-Stone star power—or musical chops).
Other keys to SNL42 success include nailing down who steps into the Bland White Guy roles for departing Killam (look for Beck Bennett to dutifully comply), how Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant perform in anticipation of their own potential departures next season, how prominently full cast member Leslie Jones fits into the new mix, if Sasheer Zamata finally finds her voice in a crowded cast, and if Kyle Mooney finds a way to show that he has what it takes to become a breakout movie star.
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest is
a southern gothic comedy starring Patti D’Arbanville and Michael Forest. Follow Chris on Twitter.