Tonight’s the last episode of Saturday Night Live’s current season, and as with any season finale, there’s been a lot of speculation over which cast members might be headed into their last episode. Traditionally cast changes wouldn’t be confirmed until shortly before the start of a season, but sometimes long-running or particularly popular cast members have gotten official send-offs in their last episodes—most notably Kristen Wiig back in 2012. So it was slightly unexpected when Deadline broke the news yesterday that four prominent members of the current cast would be leaving after tonight’s episode. Tonight’s the last call for Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, and Pete Davidson, meaning the show will be losing its two biggest names, its current MVP, and its most dependable oddball all at once. (I’ll let you decide who fits what bill.)
It’s not that surprising to see such a big chunk of the cast depart at once. There are almost two dozen cast members right now, and it’s the largest group of performers the show’s seen in its 47 (?!?) years. Plus all four have been on the show for at least eight seasons; Davidson, the youngster of the group, joined in 2014. McKinnon and Bryant, meanwhile, joined in 2012, meaning they’re both in the formerly rare class of cast member who spent at least a decade on the show. Mooney will be coming just short of that mark, leaving after nine seasons, after sticking around one additional year after his longtime writing partner Beck Bennett left at the end of last season.
I’m not a huge fan of SNL, but that’s because it’s an institution that’s resistant to change and has been run for most of its existence by a guy who’s let it develop a harmful culture and should’ve been fired decades ago. The actual writers and performers on the show are usually talented—you’ve got to be to get there—but that’s something they don’t consistently get to prove on SNL. Bryant, though, is one of the notable SNL performers who has regularly broken through the show’s rigid confines and shown exactly how hilarious she can be—I’d put her in the same all-time great category alongside the Farleys and Radners and Belushis (uh, the first one, not the second one). McKinnon was the bigger name and had the bigger roles on SNL, and when she wasn’t going too big and broad she could be just as great as Bryant. The two together were almost always tremendous. Meanwhile Pete Davidson’s Weekend Update segments were among the best of the era, and one of the few highlights of the Jost/Che tenure; he’s also been an invaluable part of the show’s weekly music video parodies. And for the first half of his run Mooney was a worthy successor to Will Forte’s legacy of weird alternative bits and meta-comedy; at some point he and Bennett’s weekly videos just kind of disappeared, and Mooney slipped into being just another role-player, but he’d still occasionally get to show off his distinct comedic voice in the rare sketch or Weekend Update bit.
Meanwhile, Kenan Thompson, who’s been there 10 seasons longer than Mooney, seems poised to return next year for his 20th season. NBC cancelled his underrated sitcom Kenan, so it’s not like he’s got another show to leave for. Hopefully Kenan never leaves SNL, and gets to retire as its oldest cast member ever about 30 seasons from now. Hell, I’d have him take over the whole show right now—give the man Lorne’s job already, NBC. He’s earned it!
There’s also no word on Cecily Strong, who joined at the same time as Bryant, just a few episodes after McKinnon. Like Bryant, McKinnon, and Davidson, Strong has missed several episodes over the last couple of seasons due to other commitments, something that SNL hasn’t let its cast do until the last few years. It wouldn’t be a surprise if she left at the same time as Bryant and McKinnon, but she hasn’t been reported as leaving, so she could very well be back for Season 48.
You can watch McKinnon, Bryant, Mooney and Davidson take their final bows on Saturday Night Live tonight at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC, in an episode hosted by Natasha Lyonne and with Paste faves Japanese Breakfast as musical guest.