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Date Posted: 16:46:52 05/26/17 Fri
Author: carson
Subject: Season 42 Thoughts
In reply to: Jurb 's message, "Episode 829: The Live Discussion Thread - Our Season Finale, or: "Farewell, Bobby & Vanessa"" on 23:12:13 05/20/17 Sat

I figured I'd share my thoughts on the season a little bit now that the dust has settled.

SNL, for all its ups and downs, is mostly a muddle of 'C-' to 'B+' episodes. The truly great seasons (77-78, 89-90, 92-93) are just 'B' seasons with a higher sample size of actual 'A' episodes, while the truly horrible seasons (you know what they are, but I'll throw 04-05 and 09-10 as damn close to the bottom) are just 'C' with a higher sample size of 'F' episodes.

For me, the 16-17 season of SNL skews closer to the top of the grade then the bottom. It was probably SNL's best season since 12-13. Now, with the weirdness of the political climate, a lot of the pre-election material seems particularly off and some of the other decisions (the early Kellyanne portrayal, the "Hallelujah" and "To Sir With Love" monstrosities) account for the worst moments from the season, but all in all I found a lot of the political material highly engaging, even if only superficially so.

Anyway, I want to talk about some castmembers:

Sasheer Zamata - I don't know who's at fault, but the show could never get out of first gear with Sasheer. She really was a fine actress, capable of some very effective line readings, but she seemed perpetually shackled, like the show or Sasheer herself were wary of trusting the audience to embrace her. Other than the Update commentaries from seasons' past where Sasheer and the audience alike seemed to be uncomfortable with the other, there were no real moments of comedic perspective or distinct personality. She was just an actor - capable and reliable, but muted. I don't know if she was the poor fit or if SNL did her wrong, but it was undeniably four seasons of tepid professionalism. I will be intrigued to see if someone can successfully find and tap into Sasheer's comedic perspective now that she doesn't have to fit within the SNL system.

Bobby Moynihan - As someone recently said on Twitter, Bobby had a great on-base percentage who could occasionally hit for power. To extend the analogy, Bobby may not be a Hall of Famer, but he certainly was an All-Star. The highest compliment I can give Bobby is that in 9 seasons, I never once felt like I had too much Bobby. The man could do funny and he could do it as an ensemble performer. I hope is post-SNL career flourishes so he can get the credit he rightfully deserves. He was a constant bright light during one of SNL's trickiest cast transitions (Wiig-Hader-Samberg to McKinnon-Bennett-Jones). I'm not sad he's leaving, but I am grateful for his tenure.

Vanessa Bayer - This is the one I'm saddest about. She had some years where the airtime got a little lean, but I feel that Bayer showed significant growth over her time on SNL. While initially fitting effectively into the Curtain-Gasteyer type of roles, Bayer's comedy brand just continued to expand and expand to the point where she really was capable of anything. Look, for instance, at her characters: from the two porn stars to Jacob to the weather lady to even her impressions, Bayer's comedy was varied and continually improving. I thought this season brought on Bayer's best work and it's a shame it's ending now. Her film work has been very strong, however, showing off more facets of Bayer's personality, so I'm definitely excited to see more of her.

OK, now for the rest of the cast.

Beck Bennett - This really was Beck's season, wasn't it? I mean, Kate McKinnon is still rightly recognized as a star, but this season confirmed that Beck is the core. It took him a while, but the 16-17 will go down as a Hartman/Ferrell/Hader watershed for him. My wife is in love with him too, BTW. The key for Beck, is that he's a weirdo at heart that has found a way to make himself useful in more traditional ways. If there was an MVP for this season and a likely one for the next couple (I'm predicting Kate McKinnon leaves after next season), it's Beck.

Aidy Bryant - I love Aidy, I love the kind of energy she brings, I love her default moves (kind of a dopey stare to the camera). Aidy is the kind of goofball I can't get sick of. I hope with Bayer and Zamata''s departures, Bayer is given a larger share of the workload next season. She really can't do much wrong for me.

Michael Che and Colin Jost - I'll just put these guys together. Of course, with the political climate, these guys had more to play with this year. But even without all that, they really are hitting their sweet spot. If their first year was the awkward struggle to build confidence and their second year saw them find their footing and develop as a unit, this season saw the duo begin to reap the rewards of their hard work. Audiences have begun to recognize and acknowledge the duo's strength. My favorite part is how Che, all cool and aloof, is actually harnassing a lot of Colin Quinn's old style - pure stand-up editorializing. It's great. Jost is picking up on it too in his own way, although he still has to wade through a bit of dopey white guy schtick. But still, this is a solid, interesting pairing that I will be happy to see serve behind the desk for at least a couple more seasons.

Pete Davidson - Pete was understandably MIA for much of the season, which, comedically speaking, is possibly beneficial. He reminds me so much of those early-90s standups in that they are clearly funny and have an easy connection to the audience, but can't really contribute to the meat of the show (almost an inverse of Sasheer Zamata). Those early 90s guys enjoyed bright, but brief flames. That's the nature of specialists. Spending this season mostly on the bench, however, will probably buy Davidson an extra year or two in the cast. He's a funny dude who feels like a throwback. I doubt he's around for too long, but a guy like him is an often underrated change of pace for the cast.

Leslie Jones - Exactly like Davidson, except where Davidson has low-key appeal, Jones is broad and boisterous. In the correct amount of doses, she can be great, playing on her established persona. Her filmed pieces this year accounted for some of the season's definite highlights, while the dopey Ninja sketches were lovable enough to justify their existence. Less compelling is her Update work which is starting to feel forced, almost like John Belushi having to do his "But Nooooooo" commentaries for the 10th time. That energy level cannot sustain itself for that long without starting to come off forced.

Kate McKinnon - She's the star of the show and no one is likely to steal that away from her. She has the trust of the writers and audience and she consistently delivers. I wish I found her Clinton impression funnier, but it's a tough one to do (especially when not playing the straight man to Bill) and her take is probably as strong a take as you can get (better or worse than Amy's? Jan's? I don't know). I'm guessing the contract runs out next year and she moves on to bigger and better things, but at this point I'd say she got Kristin Wiig in the rearview mirror on the all-time list.

Kyle Mooney - Kyle Mooney is such a distinct, singular comic voice, that it's kind of a miracle that he's not only lasted four seasons, but has actually made inroads as an actual presence on the show. I don't think he was ever going to get the position Beck Bennett now holds, but he's definitely woven into the fabric of the current era of SNL. We saw less of the Good Neighbor stuff this year, but Kyle's videos with Leslie were uniformly terrific and audiences are finally warming to him. It's nice that the show has not only made room for Kyle's comedy, but that Kyle has broadened his role within the show as well.

Cecily Strong - The breakout star momentum of 2012-2013 came crashing to a halt the following season, but I think Cecily has settled into a comfortable role on the show. I'm not crazy about everything she does (she does seem to be tied to the most "political culture" type sketches, which can be great, but also kind of weird), but I'm probably less down on her than many. She seems to have found a sort of Nora Dunn/Laraine Newman role, which can still produce a lot of great material if less impactful. Frankly, there's no one on this cast who I am out and out sick of. Strong is not my favorite, but I could hardly call her a weak spot on the cast.

Kenan Thompson - At this point you just kind of have to accept Kenan on the cast. To his credit, he's as relevant as ever, he's still as reliable as ever and he's still as funny as he's ever been. In fact, for a guy 14 seasons deep, Kenan still shows slow, steady improvement each season. I was not a huge fan in his early years, but he's stuck around so long because he is a rock on this cast. He is a bona fide sketch actor who probably understands that it's probably not going to get any better than this.

Mikey Day - Whenever I see him, I'm always like "This guy's a fucking dork," but then again, he's been a key component in some of this season's biggest highlights. As strong a freshman year season as we've seen in a few years. Hopefully next year we will get to see more of his actual personality.

Alex Moffat - It's a similar case with Moffat, who showed up and did good work all season, but we're still waiting for that distinct flavor. Moffat reminded many, including me, of those early Seth Meyers years. And while it's easy to chide those early, perpetual Jimmy Fallon understudy, seasons of Meyers before he found his niche, Meyers still put in solid, steady work - a fine trait for a first year player. Waiting for him to still blossom, but he's already dependable and solid.

Melissa Villasenor - So...I really like Melissa Villasenor. And maybe it's for all the reasons many don't - her goofy voice, her occasionally less committed acting - she's a presence I really find endearing. I honestly think there's star potential here, it's just a matter of opportunity and time. Luckily, there may be a greater share of air time on the horizon, if she can stick around and get some more at-bats, I think good things may happen. I still view the Aziz sketch as one of the season's highlights.

Speaking of...my favorite moments, off the top of my head:

Melissa and Aziz (Aziz Ansari)
Evil Inventions (Dwayne Johnson)
Black Jeopardy (Tom Hanks)
Kyle and Leslie (multiple episodes)
Hot Girlfriend (Margot Robbie)
Truly Madly Deeply (Jimmy Fallon)
Sketch for Women (Scarlett Johannson)
Sectionals (Louis CK)
Pepsi Commercial (Louis CK)
Stakeout (Chris Pine)
Post-sketch press conference (Dave Chappelle)
Fatal Attraction (Alec Baldwin)

And on and on and on...anyways, I thought it was a pretty strong season in what has now been a solid little run for the show.

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