[Update: More recent SNL employees have been let go.]
It's a sad thing for the unfortunate souls who don't make it, but Lorne Michaels' Saturday Night Live has never been big on social promotions. Ever-confident in the show's repeatedly demonstrated ability to absorb any loss, Michaels clearly doesn't feel a need to hold hands or groom prospects. But while you can't really question the track-record, it's worth noting that there are a lot of highly successful former Saturday Night Live players who went one and done. People who just weren't right for that show and that universe.
For Brooks Wheelan's sake, we hope that he joins that list after receiving his walking papers yesterday; after a mostly impact-free debut season on Saturday Night Live, though, we can't blame Michaels for cutting the former stand-up comedian loose.
Brought in initially as a writer before being quickly pushed to the cast as a featured player before last season (to help make up for the departure of what Michaels would later call “four leading men”), Wheelan got the "throw him into the deep end of the pool" brand of swimming lesson. But while many of his fellow rookies found their niche, Wheelan never really did. There were high points like his desk pieces (which played to his stand-up roots), but his character work lagged and he mostly stuck to the background in those instances when he made it onto the screen.
Michaels warned, in an interview with Deadline back in early June, that the show was still “rebuilding” and that there would be further changes made to the show after they welcomed a total of eight new featured players to the cast last season (including mid-season adds Sasheer Zamata and Colin Jost). Wheelan is just one departure, but we’re wondering if someone else - or somebodies - could be next.
Could it be John Milhiser, another rookie who failed to make much of a dent? How about Noël Wells? I previously assumed that she would be safe, but her fade as the season went on might give Michaels pause in that she eventually became the least impressive female cast member in a crowded field and sometimes, momentum matters. That's why I still think Mike O'Brien is safe after a strong second half, but anything is possible.
UPDATE: Well, it turns out at least some of those concerns were right on the money. Deadline is now reporting that neither John Milhiser's nor Noël Wells' SNL contract is being renewed, while "discussions are underway" to determine if Mike O'Brien will continue to be a part of the show.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that Michaels might push out a veteran cast member to really shake things up, but there really are no established cast members that fall below competency and everyone already assumes that Nasim Pedrad will leave at some point for Mulaney.
Michaels' rebuilding effort doesn't just have to be about "addition by subtraction" either. While the cast was huge last season, there is no set rule that limits Michaels from bringing in a couple more players to see what he can get out of them. Leslie Jones, who was brought in at mid-season as a writer, made waves in her on-screen appearance last season; despite the controversy, she was electric and her movie career has since taken off, with a role in the Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis starring Loomis Fargo - among other projects this summer.
After watching Michael Che walk out the door to The Daily Show, it would be nice to see Saturday Night Live be proactive and elevate a rising star before they break out through the ceiling. Still, if Michaels sees the spark in someone else and decides to bring in another group of mostly unknown comic performers, who are we to question King Midas?
Saturday Night Live returns for its 40th season this fall on Saturday nights @11:30PM on NBC.
Update Source: Deadline