Season 42 of Saturday Night Live debuts this weekend with three (and a half?) new featured players, a massively overhauled writers’ room, and months of election inanity to catch up on.
It was a big summer for SNL: Weekend Update co-hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che traveled to the DNC and RNC to shoot two rounds of off-season election coverage; Leslie Jones went to Rio to experience the Olympics (while enduring one of the most pointlessly vicious bouts of bullying Twitter’s ever seen); and beloved longtime cast member Kate McKinnon took home an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on the show (check out her tearful acceptance speech below).
This Saturday, Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie hosts the SNL premiere with musical guest The Weeknd; here’s a rundown of the changes and surprises you can expect to see this season.
In August, SNL announced the departure of six-year veteran cast members Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah, and first-year featured player Jon Rudnitsky. The news came as a bit of a surprise: Killam and Pharoah each had a year left on their contracts, and Pharoah – whose Obama impression has been an SNL staple – was generally expected to continue at least through the end of the election cycle (it’ll be a fun surprise to see who ends up covering that spot for the next month or so). Neither of them had too much time to be bummed about it, though; they’ve already been cast in Showtime pilots (Pharoah on Jamie Foxx’s White Famous, and Killam on Jason Katim’s Mating), and Killam’s gearing up for the release of his directorial debut, action film We’re Killing Gunther. And Rudnitsky, a standup comic who was chosen as one of Just for Laughs Montreal’s prestigious New Faces of Comedy last year, has been appearing at clubs all over NYC in the past few weeks.
Killam reflected on his time at SNL as he packed up his office:
Earlier in the summer, the loss of director Matt Villines came as a devastating blow to the show (and the comedy world at large). Since 2013, Villines – as part of directing duo “Matt & Oz” with Oz Rodriguez – was behind some of SNL’s most memorable pre-taped sketches, including “Sad Mouse” with Bruno Mars, “Back Home Ballers,” “The Jay Z Story,” “Grow-A-Guy,” and “(Do It On My) Twin Bed,” among many others. He is fondly remembered by those lucky enough to have worked with him; Rodriguez is expected to remain on staff.
New Featured Players
The unveiling of SNL’s latest featured player hires is always highly anticipated, with every year’s announcement preceded by much speculation and sharing of half-baked rumors. This year, a handful of eager bloggers jumped the gun by publishing the “news” that Chris Redd (Popstar) was joining the show. This was quickly debunked, but shortly after, official word came that three new featured players would be joining the team.
First up is Mikey Day, who’s not actually new to the show; he’s been in the writers’ room since 2013. A frequent collaborator of Taran Killam’s, he co-wrote the former cast member’s fall comedy, Brother Nature. This summer, he was a featured performer on NBC variety show Maya & Marty, and judging by his strong performance there, we’ve got a lot to look forward to as he shifts roles at SNL:
He’ll be joined by Alex Moffatt, an alum of Chicago’s Second City, iO, and Annoyance Theatres. Moffatt appeared in comedy thriller Uncle John and (until recently) hosted the live streamed variety show, El Show:
Rounding out the new batch of featured players is Melissa Villaseñor, notably the show’s first Latina performer. A standup comic and impressionist who’s topped many comedy insiders’ SNL wish-lists for years, Villaseñor has competed on America’s Got Talent and Dana Carvey’s First Impressions, voiced characters on Adventure Time and Family Guy, and has a huge arsenal of impersonations that includes an eclectic mix of stars from Barbara Walters to Owen Wilson. She’s also got an exceptionally great take on Hillary Clinton, so between her and Kate McKinnon, it’ll be interesting to see how SNL handles having two deft Hillarys on hand.
And – while not technically a “new hire” – Alec Baldwin will be a frequent special guest in what has to be one of the more unexpected, unprecedented, and bizarre moves in the show’s history. Starting this weekend, Baldwin will be SNL’s official Donald Trump (a title formerly held by Darrell Hammond). We’re thrilled to have Baldwin back on TV, but hopefully, there won’t be any need for him to continue the role past November…
Returning Cast Members
In addition to the three new hires, the SNL cast is celebrating three promotions. Michael Che, Pete Davidson, and Leslie Jones – all entering their third year on the show – have been bumped up from featured players to full cast members, locking in the following final lineup:
And, no matter which way the election swings, it’ll be a busy year for Darrell Hammond: for the third year, he’ll be filling the late Don Pardo’s shoes as the show’s announcer, and making appearances as hopeful First Gentleman, Bill Clinton.
Writers’ Room Changes
This year’s biggest shakeups have been behind the scenes, with seven – yes, seven – new additions to the writers’ room.
Nick Kocher and Brian McElhaney – aka sketch team BriTANicK – join the likes of The Lonely Island and (kind of) Good Neighbor as a package hire. In over six years together, Kocher and McElhaney have put out dozens of beautifully produced videos, and most recently, the pair were writing on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Julio Torres, a writer on offbeat variety shows The Special Without Brett Davis and The Chris Gethard Show, sat in as a guest writer for a few episodes towards the end of last season, and has been brought on full-time, along with writer and performer Anna Drezen (formerly editor-at-large at humor site Reductress), frequent Above Average staff writer Joanna Bradley, former Jimmy Kimmel Live staffer Zack Bornstein, and one of UCB NY’s most prolific sketch writers, Kristen Bartlett.
These seven new scribes will be reporting to new co-head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider. The highly accomplished duo have been behind some of the show’s best sketches since 2011, from pitch-perfect musical bits like “Back Home Ballers” and “(Do It On My) Twin Bed” to political satire like “Bern Your Enthusiasm” and “Bar Talk,” which showcased Hillary Clinton’s surprisingly biting sense of humor:
The pair’s promotion was a bit of a surprise, since Kelly recently relocated to Los Angeles and wasn’t necessarily expected to return to the show. He’s also been busy promoting his critically acclaimed directorial debut, the heartbreakingly funny, autobiographical film Other People (starring Molly Shannon, and in theaters now).
Check out our 2015 interview with Kelly and Schneider here.
Expect to get a few more sketches from each episode as NBC Universal cuts back on commercials, removing 30% of SNL’s ad space. That adds up to two fewer breaks per episode. “As the decades have gone by, commercial time has grown,” said Lorne Michaels. “This will give time back to the show and make it easier to watch the show live.” In an effort to cut commercials while maintaining ad revenue, the network will add six “branded content pods” per year (basically, increasing product placement opportunities).
So far, only the first few weeks have hosts locked in:
October 1: host Margot Robbie, musical guest The Weeknd
October 8: host Lin-Manuel Miranda, musical guest Twenty One Pilots
October 12: host Emily Blunt, musical guest TBD
Hopefully, this season will steer clear of major hosting missteps, like last year’s unfortunate Donald Trump propaganda-fest.
Soooo…what are you looking forward to seeing this year? Are you sad that Taran, Jay, and Jon are gone? Thrilled about the new hires? Hoping for some big election year cameos? Tweet @splitsider to let us know your thoughts on the shakeups, your dream host candidates, and your predictions for SNL’s 42nd season.