Following its best season in decades, a major Saturday Night Live cast shake-up is unlikely. Still, with the exit of stalwarts Vanessa Bayer, Bobby Moynihan and Sasheer Zamata, Executive Producer Lorne Michaels has his work cut out for him rebuilding for Season 43. Expect new cast members to be announced just prior to next fall’s season premier, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see one or two current cast members released this summer. Finessing the finer points of his SNL cast has been something for which Michaels is both revered and feared.
As we’ve done in the past, we’re breaking down who we expect to return from the current cast, and what Not Ready for Primetime Players we think will be joining Bayer, Moynihan and Zamata in pursuing new endeavors. It should be noted that these predictions are highly speculative—based entirely on close watching the show all season. We have no insider information and, frankly, give no weight to showbiz gossip.
So with that caveat, here are our predictions for who will be back, who will go, and who is on the cusp.
100% chance of return
Former staff writer turned featured performer Mikey Day was Season 42’s surprise breakout star. Day showed up in leading roles from the get-go, and by season’s end was SNL’s most recognizable new guy. Day’s particular genius is making the most out of every character he plays, coupled with his unique ability to make even the most absurd characters utterly believable. Expect him to be promoted to full repertory company for his second season—well on his way to “the next Will Farrell” accolades by season’s end.
95% chance of return
In just five seasons at SNL, Aidy Bryant has become one of the show’s most original and reliable voices. Bryant is the master of both the comically awkward preteen and the unflappably confident middle-aged matron—bringing a level of empathy to each that is rarely seen in sketch comedy. Expect Bryant to follow Vanessa Bayer’s lead, with her sixth season serving as a breakout year, which sets her up for a “victory lap” seventh.
90% chance of return
It took Bennett four seasons to go from offbeat, alt-comedy douchebag to heir-apparent to SNL’s Bland White Guy—a traditional slot that was left wide open after Taran Killam’s surprise departure last year. This has been disappointing to those of us who like the old, edgier Beck, but bodes well for his longevity with the show. Bennett’s had an solid season—his busiest. But he’d be wise to keep his edge. First year featured player Alex Moffat is Bland White Guy in waiting.
85% chance of return
Leslie Jones will be back for SNL 43 for one main reason: because she’s pretty much hilarious in everything she does. She might not be the best actor or most experienced sketch performer, but she has a presence and personality that can’t be denied. I still think a Jones-Che Weekend Update team would be a masterstroke, but I don’t think we’re going to see that happen, as Jost-Che seems locked-in for the near future.
80% chance of return
I was pretty sure that Kate McKinnon would leave after her star turn third season, last year. Just like the great college basketball players who turn pro after their freshman or sophomore year, Kate’s talents are out-sized for Studio 8H—she’s a movie star. SNL42 was solid for Kate, just not as stunning as Season 41. And though there doesn’t seem to be any practical reasons for her to stay, I do expect her back for one final season.
75% chance of return
We can only assume that Kenan Thompson, soon to be in his record-breaking 15th season at SNL, is chasing history. Thompson officially sets the cast record for most-seasons next fall, surpassing current SNL Announcer Darrell Hammond’s paltry 14. Thompson’s consistently good—last year he was particularly strong—but the show will be better when he leaves and other cast members get their shot at setting records.
70% chance of return
Kyle Mooney is my favorite current repertory player, but he’s increasingly become an odd fit at SNL. Unlike co-conspirator Beck Bennett, Mooney hasn’t found a reliable niche on the show—besides his own off-beat character creations that tend toward alt-comedy pre-tapes. With Mooney writing and starring in the Sundance hit Brigsby Bear—which also stars Beck Bennett and SNL alums Andy Samberg and Michaela Watkins—his ultimate SNL exit may depend on how well that film fares at the box office.
70% chance of return
This has been a disappointing season for Cecily Strong—who as recently as last year commanded most of the female roles on the show. Strong is custom-made for SNL. She’s the Phil Hartman of her generation: perfect in any role. Maybe Strong’s lower visibility was due a greater emphasis on retiring Vanessa Bayer or maybe last year’s writing staff shake-up didn’t work in her favor. Regardless, Strong remains one of SNL’s most popular and versatile repertory players—it would be disappointing to see he go.
Michael Che & Colin Jost
65% chance of return
Both Michael Che and Colin Jost have earned the right to return for their fourth season as co-hosts of Weekend Update. Granted, they were handed the most extraordinary year in American politics, ever. But both men and their writing staff rose to the challenge, making the creaky Weekend Update segment worth watching again.
60% chance of return
Alex Moffat should be back for his second season after a respectable debut this year. While not as ubiquitous as fellow first year featured performer Mikey Day, Moffat demonstrated a lot of potential—and as mentioned above, should be next in line for the Bland White Guy slot when Beck Bennett leaves.
50% chance of return
Impressionists have a hard time building much of a career at SNL (just ask Jay Pharoah)—unless they are prolific writers and solid comic actors. As such, the jury’s still out on Melissa Villaseñor. I personally think she performed well enough in her first season to get another chance next year. But she’ll need to find a couple of breakout/recurring characters next season for Lorne Michaels to justify keeping her for a third year.
30% chance of return
As he ages and sobers up, the rationale for Pete Davidson—SNL’s resident stoner kid—diminishes. Davidson has been around for three seasons, but he’s still not demonstrated the level of acting expertise of long lasting SNL cast members. Of the current cast, Davidson is certainly the most vulnerable as we go into the summer hiatus. I hope for the best for Pete, but I honestly don’t expect Michaels keep him.
NBC typically announces Saturday Night Live’s repertory and featured players just before the start of a new season, post Labor Day. Expect a couple of surprises and several new names for Season 43—a good bet might be someone from the current writing staff following the Mikey Day path to featured player.
Whatever happens, you can rest assured that Lorne Michaels will not play with his current cast dynamic too much. He’s got a good thing going right now, and he will not be inclined to take a risk that might mess it up.
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest is
an award-winning, southern gothic comedy starring Patti D’Arbanville and Michael Forest. Follow Chris on Twitter.