The weirdest season of Saturday Night Live since the one with Anthony Michael Hall is over. It began with the one-two punch of hiring and then firing Shane Gillis (we don’t have to talk about that again), and it ended trapped in its own apartment complex, like Olivia de Havilland in Lady in a Cage. Eddie Murphy returned to the show that he saved in the 1980s, and a crowded Democratic primary made room for plenty of impersonations and stunt casting. Especially stunt casting. In all the years Splitsider and Vulture have been measuring SNL screen time, the most important cast member is the concept of fame, and celebrities and former cast members dominated season 45.
Here’s how we broke down every cast member’s contributions: The SNL point system was first designed by Erik Voss and brought into the digital video age by moi. One point is awarded just for showing up. Michael Che and Colin Jost were on the cover of SNL Magazine in a Kyle Mooney pretape — that’s a point! Two points are awarded for delivering a few jokes and three for carrying the sketch. Extra points are awarded for applause breaks, which happened almost every time Kate McKinnon showed up as Elizabeth Warren. You also get an extra point for saying “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” The “LFNY” bonus really helped anyone who had a political impersonation this year, which included a lot of ringers in cameos. Here’s the full “LFNY” breakdown:
We also looked at who got “Cut for Time” the most. Nearly every week, a few sketches get cut between dress rehearsal and the live event. And on top of that, SNL has been releasing “Digital Exclusive” content this season. What makes these sketches different from the ones cut for time? Unclear! Either way, it’s fun to look at these to see what could have been on the air. And with the ever-increasing importance of YouTube clicks compared to live viewership, these sketches are arguably as “in the show” as the ones that actually aired live. Here’s the season-45 “Cut for Time” breakdown by cast member:
This was the season during which SNL’s cameo problem really metastasized. Former cast members returned to play Biden and Bloomberg, Kamala and Klobby. They showed up in the monologues of alums like Will Ferrell and Murphy. And in the last live episode of the season, Debbie Downer came back to bum us all out about the coronavirus. How is this cast supposed to compete not only with each other, but with the ghosts of 8H? It’s not fair to the new faces, and the constant applause breaks ruin any rhythm a sketch might have. SNL is on the verge of being really weird and fun. In what world is “jealous sisters in the 1940s try to keep their hot sibling from marrying a military officer” a recurring sketch? In this world! But all the locals know is Alec Baldwin thinking about maybe not playing Trump someday.
And with that, here’s the complete SNL screen-time breakdown for season 45:
Michael Che: 2.74%
“Update” anchors generally don’t leave the comfort of their desks. While Colin Jost played with everybody else as Pete Buttigieg in political sketches, Che had the more typical “Update” anchor season. He distinguished his performance from Jost’s by edging more into the commentary side of topical humor. While Jost reads punch lines, Che is trying to tell you how he sees things. Other than that, his biggest moment this season was getting “smanged to death” in a cut sketch with Lizzo. RIP.
Pete Davidson: 3.11%
Pete Davidson missed the first two episodes of the season because he was filming The Suicide Squad. Even after that movie presumably wrapped, he failed to appear in three later episodes. When he’s on SNL, Davidson is super-duper on: He’s rapping, instigating whatever nonsense triggers John Mulaney’s musical medley, or winking directly to the camera. The three At Home episodes have been some of Davidson’s most prodigious. If he can continue to do raps out of his house after quarantine lifts, season 46 could be huge for him.
Melissa Villaseñor: 3.48%
Last year, I expressed hope that Melissa Villaseñor would get more chances to show off her impersonations. And like every other hope I had for 2020, that did not happen. Aside from a co-venture with Chloe Fineman in the last At Home episode, Villaseñor was often relegated to Friend No. 3 bits in group scenes. She did get a chance to sing once on “Update,” and it got people who don’t usually watch SNL talking. Unfortunately, those people were MRAs, but press is press.
Colin Jost: 3.53%
Jost got to hang out in the political cold opens as human packing peanut/presidential hopeful Mayor Pete. It was sort of a meta joke about how bland some people find Jost. Jost doesn’t always imbue his “Update” delivery with the most personality; he just tells the jokes and lets them succeed or fail on their own merits. He definitely seems more human when exchanging jokes with Che, to each other’s great discomfort. The bit started last season and came back for Christmas and corona this year. But of course, the real MVP of the Scarjost household is that guitar.
Chloe Fineman: 3.85%
The quarantine episodes have really given freshman Fineman a chance to shine. Coming into the show as a queen of front-facing-camera comedy, Fineman has introduced us to her panoply of li’l stinkers, from the Eurotrash Airbnb guest Ooli to a Timmy Chalamet so fidgety it makes you want to puke. Hopefully she’ll be able to get more of that mess onstage when SNL returns to 8H.
Bowen Yang: 4.04%
Bowen Yang was bumped up from writer to featured performer this season. He made a big splash behind the “Update” desk as the Trade Daddy and Bottle Boi. But as fans of Yang’s podcast and lip-syncing videos know, that’s just a small fraction of what he can do. We were robbed of his “Coal Miners” sketch with RuPaul, which not only should have aired, but it should be recurring. We must get rid of toxic in community.
Ego Nwodim: 4.83%
Ego Nwodim didn’t get her own featured sketch until the end of last year. This year, she’s become the queen of dismissive faces. She was disgusted by Alex Moffat’s lack of enthusiasm for SoulCycle, imperious while eating foil on a talk show, and definitely knew how to play charades right. During quarantine, she delivered pitch-perfect parodies of influencer YouTube. Here’s hoping these sketches can become recurring pretapes in season 46. Since SNL is mostly consumed via YouTube now, it just makes sense to try and keep satirizing it.
Alex Moffat: 4.92%
Moffat should’ve had a better year. There are plenty of smug whites in politics that could have been occupying his time. Instead, we had Matthew Broderick as Mike Pompeo, Jimmy Fallon as Justin Trudeau, and a rotating cast of hosts/alumni playing Joe Biden. Moffat was relegated mostly to reacting to stuff in workplace scenes or playing the few douchebags to which he’s already laid claim: Eric Trump, Zuck, and the Guy Who Owns a Boat.
Kyle Mooney: 4.92%
Mooney continues to be the li’l auteur of SNL. If Albert Brooks had been added to the main cast in 1975 and occasionally had to do an impersonation on “Update,” he’d have the same screen-time share as Mooney. Kyle is always Kyle; even in sketches in which he’s playing Brother No. 2, there’s an intensity to the performance that makes his footprint on the show seem bigger than it is.
Chris Redd: 5.62%
Chris Redd got a leg up at the beginning of the season, when Cory Booker was in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination. It was a completely different energy for Redd’s bug eyes than the tweaky vibe he has in Popstar or in “That’s the Game.” Redd is also providing a lot of the musical comedy these days, from doing an R&B breakdown in “Slow” or a hyped party jam in the “Lockdown Song” digital exclusive. The show has continued to benefit from having a plurality of black performers, making room for sketches like “Them Trumps” or one about the Popeyes’ chicken-sandwich craze.
Heidi Gardner: 5.94%
Heidi Gardner has BGE: Big Groundlings Energy. Her work on the show is deeply rooted in character, and the kind of kooky, replicable character that the Groundlings fosters. She brought back her teen movie reviewer Bailey Gismert and the weird cousin. She also added a crazed kind of positivity to the motivational exercise sketches. I really admire her ability to wear the most uncomfortable and shitty aspects of white womanhood. From demanding Michigan be liberated to portraying the one Trump supporter at online graduation, if there is a gross opinion to have, Gardner will pretend to have it.
Mikey Day: 6.73%
Mikey Day is a laugh cuck. He lives to get dunked on in sketches. Even while stuck in his house, he managed to make his son the high-status laugh-getter. SNL viewers saw Day absolutely torched playing J.Lo’s husband, a WWII factory owner, and a soldier on the front lines. Being the omega dog has paid off for Day. In a season during which much of the zaniness was given to outsiders, it paid to be the supporting dingus.
Cecily Strong: 6.92%
Of all the current Not Ready for Prime-Time Players, Cecily Strong performs vulnerability the best. She imbues weird two-handers like “Marrying Ketchups,” “Sound of Music,” and “Love at First Sight” with way more emotional resonance than you’d expect. Give Strong an awards-baiting dramedy, you cowards! Something about overcoming a trauma while working at a tourist trap in Georgia or something. One of the kids from The Haunting of Hill House could teach her life lessons about letting go of the past. The thing writes itself.
Aidy Bryant: 6.96%
Aidy Bryant’s bewildered head bob is God-tier. When she’s given roles like the librarian coming to terms with RuPaul’s definition of reading, it’s a joy to watch her head nod back and forth like her neck is a KUKA arm. Beyond imbuing her ensemble work with KUKA-arm charm, Bryant got to make several fun pretaped sketches that bordered on the hallucinogenic. They’re like a funny Black Swan, showing off Bryant as a woman barely tethered to our world.
Beck Bennett: 7.20%
SNL slots Beck Bennett into almost every role imaginable. He can pull focus as a guy with a weird accent or be a normie family member reacting to the concept of funeral DJs. Bennett plays like half of the Trump administration, so his “LFNY” bonus is pretty high. Whether talking out Mitch McConnell’s wattle or doing his oddly Bing Crosby–esque Mike Pence, Bennett’s is one of the first faces you were likely to see in season 45.
Kenan Thompson: 7.24%
Kenan Thompson’s streak as the longest-serving SNL cast member continues unabated, even though he’s scaled back his participation this year. Many an episode wouldn’t have a Thompson sighting until after “Update,” something unthinkable last year. Thompson has been working overtime, continuing developing The Kenan Show and executive-producing the All That revival. But he’s been holding it down during the At Home episodes. He even managed to revive “What Up With That?” from his Tampa home.
Kate McKinnon: 8.12%
McKinnon continues to dominate the cast, even if she’s playing second banana to fame-os. Playing Elizabeth Warren got her plenty of applause breaks, as did her Rudy Giuliani for some reason. In fact, McKinnon gets the most applause breaks and “LFNY” bonus points of any cast member. Aside from that, she frequently became a double act with Bryant. The two giggled their way through apple picking and old New York. McKinnon has received Emmy nominations for the past two seasons, and she was definitely onscreen enough to garner another this year.
Which ringer will play Biden when the election ramps up? Grabby Joe was played by Woody Harrelson, John Mulaney, and a returning Jason Sudeikis. Does SNL really want a world where both parties’ candidates are played by cameos? The answer is obviously, depressingly, yes. Cameos are clickbait. They get the write-ups on Sunday morning. People tweet, “Ooooh, Dratch! Missed her.” When done well, a surprising and well-cast famous face can be fun as hell. But they’re not surprising anymore. There were fewer episodes with Villaseñor than there were with guest stars. Will Ferrell’s episode boasted eight! This is an incredibly fun cast, with lots of strengths and unique points of view. Give them a chance to shine, Lorne.