Live from New York, it’s a bunch of people you’ve likely never heard of before. That’s a bit cruel, but it’s also accurate – once again, Saturday Night Live is filling out their roster of featured players with unknowns in the hope that their energy and the enduring faith that fans have in both the institution of SNL and the genius of Lorne Michaels will carry the show through this latest transition.
That’s probably a safe bet when one considers how many times the show has been through this kind of changing of the guard, but adding six cast members is a pretty sizable shakeup, and as always, there are people who will wring their hands about this new group while mourning the loss of the old, as they always do.
So, who are these fresh, young tomorrow stars who are about to enter the SNL cocoon of comedy fame (yes, in some ways, Chris Farley was made into a delicate comedy butterfly by SNL… respect the analogy)?
Both Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett are members of the sketch comedy group, Good Neighbor (alongside Dave McCary and Nick Rutherford). You may not have heard of them, but they are in talks with Comedy Central for a show, so perhaps Bennett and Mooney will pull double duty (ala Fred Armisen and Portlandia) should that come to pass.
Bennett’s also the guy who conducts market research type roundtable interviews with a group of school children in those AT&T ads, thus putting him at mortal odds with Hader, who is now doing a series of T-Mobile ads, among other things.
Noel Wells is the only new female member of the cast. She has a ton of YouTube videos featuring different characters like Zooey Deschanel, much in the same was that Jay Pharoah did back when he was added to the cast. Wells also has some darkly hilarious sketch work on there, like her take on the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope (Manic Pixie Nightmare Girl) and the above video, wherein she delivers the sad news of Steve Jobs’ passing to Siri.
Also joining the cast are Brooks Wheelan, John Milhiser, and Mike O’Brien. Wheelan is actually not a sketch veteran, but rather, a stand-up comic.
Milhiser, on the other hand, is an Upright Citizens Brigade alumnus who created the Step Up parody short, Clap it Up, which co-starred Marcia Gay Harden and former SNL alum Melanie Hutsell, and featured a rag tag group of teens rebelling against society one high adrenaline high five at a time. It was also produced in concert with Lorne Michaels’ YouTube channel, thus possibly explaining how Michaels got to know Milhiser.
Mike O’Brien also has a familiarity with Michaels, in that he has been a writer on SNL since 2009. You may also know him from his 7 Minutes in Heaven web interviews. Kinda seems like a guy who could eventually have a role on Weekend Update, though for now, Seth Meyers will work alongside existing cast member Cecily Strong, who will sit in as Meyers’ co-anchor, a post still vacant since Amy Poehler left the show. Meyers – who is also SNL’s co-head writer – is expected to leave the series sometime in the fall to focus on his new gig, succeeding Jimmy Fallon as the host of Late Night.
To bolster the writer’s room, former featured player Tim Robinson is transitioning to a behind the scenes role. Colin Jost and Rob Klein will handle head writing duty.
Through the past transitional phase in the mid-2000s and throughout the growth of now departed stars like Hader and Kristen Wiig, Meyers’ pen has been a constant, and while it’s helpful that he’ll be around through the early part of this season, others are going to have to step up to help flesh out and define the show’s new voice.
Because of these departures and untested arrivals, this is a borderline scary time for SNL fans, but the obituaries have been written before. The bottom line is, SNL has survived almost 40 years because of its adaptive nature, comedic instinct, and the ability to develop new talent. Unless those things have suddenly disappeared, it is likely that the show will lean on veterans like Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Nasim Pedrad. Eventually, one of the new players will rise to the top, and eventually find their way, surviving the onslaught of doubt and criticism yet again, because that is what this show does.
Saturday Night Live premiers on NBC on September 28, 2013.