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The Current SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Cast Is Strong As Ever… Just Not As An Ensemble

Every few years the Saturday Night Live discussion happens: “It’s not as good as it used to be!” “Well such-and-such is the only good sketch they’ve done in a while…” “Haven’t watched it since [Insert Cast Member Name Here] was on!” However hack the lines may be, the last few years have been hard for the late-night comedy sketch show as the Not Ready For Primetime Players attempt to rebuild after an incredible run that featured cast members like Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen… just to name a few.

As with rebuilding any new cast growing pains are to be expected and this has been ever apparent over the last few seasons of SNL. The struggle feels magnetized this season though as the iconic comedy sketch show celebrates its 40th anniversary. I recap the show for Nerdist weekly and have found myself struggling a little bit since the season premiere, hosted by the very funny and very talented Chris Pratt. How does the show go from strong episodes featuring Jim Carrey, James Franco and Woody Harrelson and then drown in all of the unfunny during alternating weeks featuring just-as-funny people like Pratt, Sarah Silverman and, dare I say it? Bill Hader. I thought about the cast this season and started making my way through the players one by one looking for the weak link and then it hit me — they’re all great on their own, the problem is that they are not great together.


There’s Emmy nominee Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, Taran Killam, Jay Pharoah and Bobby Moynihan, who have been there a while. We can’t forget Sasheer Zamata, Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett and Aidy Bryant or season newbies like Michael Che, Leslie Jones and Pete Davidson. Finally, there’s Colin Jost, head writer and “Weekend Update” co-anchor. Jost has been writing for the show since 2005 so clearly he’s doing something right and came up working with some of the best. So, there it is. If one speaks objectively, I really don’t see a weak member in the bunch. Sure, I like some more than others, but I can also point to a specific moment so far this season where every single one of the cast has done something really, really funny.

It seems that SNL currently features an ensemble that relies on the host to be the glue of the show. If you think about the casts over the last 15 years, I think it’s safe to say that perhaps the opposite was true. That the host could easily accentuate the material if they were game (people like Reese Witherspoon, The Rock, Melissa McCarthy and Justin Timberlake spring to mind) but they could also take on minor roles or one liners in sketches if they weren’t particularly able to carry the show on their own. That way, the rest of the cast would be able to do the heavy lifting. Now we find ourselves in a position where if the host is weak, the show will suffer because the rest of the cast is not working as a functioning group. It’s almost like this current cast is full of hosts but no ensemble which, I would argue, is why they’re having such a hard time.

I’ve never been to 30 Rock, seen the show in person, or visited behind the scenes so I don’t know if the weakness lies within the types of sketches that are making it to air, the group of players that has been assembled, or both… or none. What I do know is that I wholeheartedly believe that the current cast of Saturday Night Live is as strong as ever — just not together.

What do you all think? Are you enjoying the 40th season of Saturday Night Live? What are your thoughts on the current cast and batch of sketches? Tell us in the comments below!

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  1. Jackie says:

    When did they stop learning their lines and start reading off cue cards? It always breaks the flow of the sketch for me.   They all have improv backgrounds, so why the devotion to the written lines?

  2. Dan says:

    “The struggle feels magnetized this season?”  Are you saying they’re bipolar?  Or do you mean “magnified?”

  3. Taylor Anne says:

    I think the real problem is the writing. We know every single cast member can do great stuff but if the stuff they are given is only sub-par then their performance won’t be much better. Weekend Update lost it’s charm when Seth left. I like Colin but I like him the best when he has Leslie come on and she calls him a delicious marshmallow! Their chemistry in those 5 seconds is better than anything we’ve seen between him and Che in the whole season. Not too mention Che is very vocal about some awful shit and has clearly let his ego get bigger than it should.

  4. Julie says:

    I agree with this article wholeheartedly. I love much of the cast. Kate McKinnon is hands down the breakout star. She is versatile and funny. I can imagine she’ll go on to work in movies in the future. But by and large the cast just doesn’t seem to be having fun. I loved it in the past when the cast would get the giggles because you knew they were having fun with each other (like this weekend when Wiig and Armisen came back on weekend update.) With the current case you don’t really see that camaraderie which makes the shows so special. There’s a reason Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake work so well together on SNL (and elsewhere), they play off each other and are always on the verge of the giggles. It’s more fun for us when they’re having fun. Watching right now seems like drudgery. 

  5. sharadoc says:

    Ì feel the cast is too large. If we saw fewer cast members more often, we could connect with them.

  6. Mark says:

    Too many stand up comedians and not enough improv and sketch comedians. There have been moments but not a full knock down show from start to finish. Too much featuring a single cast member in most of the sketches as well and where are the sketches that have a large group of cast members? Maybe they can’t all work together?

    • Josh says:

      3 stand ups is too many? Stand ups can not be good on the show? How do you come to this determination? 

  7. BAP says:

    I feel like most weeks this show is basically just as awful as Mad TV and belongs on BET. Last week wasn’t so bad, but they also brought back Fred Armisen, Kristen Wiig and Mike Meyers who are all actually funny. Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney are pretty hilarious and should definitely get promoted. Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata are not funny in the slightest and probably just there due to all of the criticism they received for not having any black chicks. I’m sure Jost is funny, but he always looks bored during Update. Vanessa Bayer is like an obnoxious drama nerd in every sketch, I don’t know how she’s lasted this long. The rest of the cast is only OK and it never feels as “fun” as previous ensembles.

    • josh says:

      This seems vaguely racist.  Sasheer and Leslie are only there because they are black? The show belongs on BET? If you don’t like shows with racial diversity,  you can watch just about every other show that exists.

  8. Nathan says:

    Not wild about the pairing of Jost and Che simply because they don’t play off of each other. One tells jokes, the other tells jokes, with no real chemistry being built. I think Colin Jost actually has it in him, he just doesn’t show it. As for other cast members, I’m not particularly Kyle Mooney.

  9. Dave says:

    Dysfunction occurs when there’s a bad egg (or eggs) in the group. Either they’re promoted too quickly or they’re lazy. They put out just enough effort to be seen as a reasonably effective performer, but they act selfishly. Other members of the group see them reaping rewards for being less of a hard worker and a team player, and the group gradually falls apart.

    I think it starts and ends with Cecily Strong, but there could be other “mediocre-divas”. They’ll need to get rid of a few people if they want a functioning group again.

    • Josh says:

      Where are you getting this info? Do you have connections within SNL or are you purely speculating?

  10. Patrick says:

    Pharoah is one or two good sketches away from being a breakout star. Moynihan should be the cast member that brings the troupe together. He has surprising versatility. And Killem should be getting calls from Hollywood already. The biggest problem I have seen is delivery. There have been a number of sketches that showed promise, but line fumbling derailed them quickly. I agree. This group doesn’t click on stage together. Thank goodness Thompson stuck around another season, as he turns in solid performances. I can’t believe I’m saying that, as really disliked him early in his run.

  11. Sadie says:

    Other than Jost, there’s no one I really DISlike too much, and on SNL that’s saying a lot. So I guess they’re doing okay but yeah…no spark. 

  12. Joshua says:

    I love it. Jost & Che play off each other very well. Cecily Strong is amazing. People want to see reoccurring characters that they’re familiar with. That will be back soon but right now everything is new and fresh.

  13. Wayne says:

    This is the first season I’ve ever skipped anything. I do not like the Colin/Michael pairing and fast forward each week now. If I see a guest commentator, I’ll stop and see if it’s worth my time, but other than that it just isn’t worth it.