Monday, May 19, 2008

SNL Report Card

With the truncated "Saturday Night Live" season complete, it's time to take a look back and see how everyone did. There will be a statistical breakdown of the number of scenes each performer appeared in, as well as the number of times each was featured. An appearance is anything from background filler to a sizable role in an ensemble scene; a feature is when the sketch is specifically about that actor's character. Keep in mind that these statistics were gleaned from a twelve-episode season where each episode featured between ten and twelve different scenes. All grades are based on the completely objective standards of my opinions and whims.

Cast members (as listed in the opening credits):

Fred Armisen (57 appearances, 16 features): Fred's major contribution to this season of "SNL" was his Barack Obama impression, which was somewhat controversial for its cross-racial nature. The controversy was, of course, nonsense. His impression is almost too respectful, not allowing much comic momentum to build up. Elsewhere, Fred nailed send-ups of Gene Simmons and Javier Bardem. His Larry King was not quite so successful, but maybe I just miss Norm McDonald in that role. His only original recurring character this season was his low-rent huckster who ran the College for Excellence back on the Ellen Page episode, a close cousin to the chandelier and marble column salesmen of previous seasons. Favorite character -- I really liked him as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. A workmanlike year for Fred. Grade: C.

Will Forte (58 appearances, 13 features): Will's feature numbers are a little inflated because I counted each MacGruber episode separately. He spent most of this year doing supporting work and was invaluable as the utility player, often elevating scenes that had no business being elevated, like the country singer whose topics were spaceships, Model Ts, toddlers and jars of beer. Or his psycho in the jukebox scenes. Or mail-order bride Amy Poehler's husband in the couples therapy scene from the Amy Adams episode. Probably "SNL's" most versatile player right now. Favorite character -- How can it not be MacGruber? Grade: B+.

Bill Hader (56 appearances, 10 features): Bill becomes the cast's most impressive impressionist this year, stepping by the under-used Darrell Hammond. His Elliot Spitzer, Christopher Walken (done right in front of the man, himself), Captain Hook, and Animal from "The Muppet Show" were all spot on. He's equally adept at straightforward characters and goofballs, authoritarian adults and law-breaking teens. Favorite character -- Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview drinking your milkshake. Grade: B-.

Darrell Hammond (19 appearances, 10 features): If Will Forte is the "SNL" team's utility man, Darrell is the lefthanded relief specialist you call on to get the other team's best hitter out in a game situation. In other words, he's the specialist's specialist. Taking on the politicians (Bill Clinton, John McCain) as well as the members of the press who cover them (Tim Russert, Chris Matthews), he has carved a niche for himself like no one else in the lengthy history of the program. It would be nice to see him out of his comfort zone a little more often. Favorite character -- Bill Clinton, an oldie but a goodie. Grade: C.

Seth Myers (12 appearances, 12 features): Seth only does Weekend Update now, and his numbers reflect that. As one of the show's Head Writers, I'd say he does a fine job. But as a performer, he's a bit too smug and self-satisfied. Maybe that's why he sticks with the Update co-anchor chair. His news readings improved over the course of the season. Favorite character -- Newsman Seth Myers (choices are limited); in years past, I liked The Zinger. Grade: C-.

Amy Poehler (67 appearances, 26 features): The "SNL" Season 33 champion, statistically speaking. Bolstered by her Weekend Update anchoring duties and her Hillary Clinton impression, Amy owned the show more than any other player this year. Like Seth, she can come off as too amused by herself on the pretend news. Like Seth, she got better over the course of twelve episodes. Her Hillary is stellar. She's a good team player, regularly taking smaller roles to fill out scenes that focus on others. And contibuting greatly to them. Favorite character -- The precocious, obnoxious Dakota Fanning. Grade: A-.

Maya Rudolph (16 appearances, 6 features): Maya departed after the writers' strike hit, four episodes into the season. She deserved a better send off. Her last ever words on the show were "Nightly News!" The only one of her major recurring characters she did before leaving was Jodi from "Bronx Beat." Favorite character -- This year, it was Delilah from the "Mad Joe Dixon" scene at the end of Seth Rogen's episode. I will dearly miss the occasional visit from Donatella Versace, though. Now GET OUT! Grade: Incomplete.

Andy Samberg (46 appearances, 10 features): As the Digital Shorts faded through Season 33, Andy's role on the show changed. He started off primarily featured in his own scenes and films, like the Superhero short and his K-Fed impression. Later he was more likely to be seen providing reactions in one of Kenan's Viginiaca sketches, livening up the background for Kristen and host Amy Adams in the "Mirror Image" scene, and even doing a credible Senator in the Petraeus Hearings. It will be interesting to see how he develops over what will hopefully be a full season next year. Favorite character -- Rico, the boyfriend of Ellen Page's awakening Melissa Etheridge fan; subtle and supportive. Grade: B.

Jason Sudeikis (51 appearances, 11 features): For the most part, Jason was content to stand back and let others take the lead, only bringing out a couple of his bits from previous seasons. Another dependable role player. This may be the most unselfish "SNL" cast ever. I would have liked to see Jason step up a bit more. Favorite character -- Ed Mahoney, the guy who made the drunken wedding toast on Tina Fey's episode. Grade: B.

Kenan Thompson (46 appearances, 13 features): Kenan has underwhelmed me for most of his time on the show, but there were signs of improvement. He scored as Dakota Fanning's bandleader Reggie on two occasions. He did a dandy Charles Barkley a couple of times that I would have liked to see more (a common refrain in this strike-shortened season). And best of all, he steered clear of DJ Dynasty Handbag; no Deep House Dish scenes all year, thank God. He still has a penchant for playing way over the top (Viginiaca, Lorenzo "Mac Attack" MacIntosh) but also managed to mix in some characters that resemble human beings. Favorite character -- French comedian Jean K. Jean. Zut alors! Grade: C-.

Kristen Wiig (65 appearances, 15 features): Amy may have pulled slightly bigger numbers, but Kristen is the MVP for "SNL" this year. A veritable one-woman stock company of recurring characters, Kristen gave us the Target Lady, Penelope, and Suze Orman. She was a hot-air balloon enthusiast, a mischievous "Deal or No Deal" suitcase girl, a "Solid Gold" dancer, Jaime Lee Curtis, a spaceship captain, an obnoxious little girl, and a cougar. And she delivered my favorite line from Season 33: "I love you, Dracula." Favorite character -- I should probably be sick of her by now, but I still really enjoy when Penelope shows up. But Penelope surely enjoys it more than I do, so you know ... Grade: A.

Casey Wilson (24 appearances, 2 features): Casey entered the cast with the Tina Fey-hosted episode right after the strike and proceeded mainly to play a lot of "third girl through the door" parts. Her major feature performance was as the quadriplegic exotic dancer Dusty Velvet on the Ashton Kutcher episode. If that's any indication of what's to come from her, we can expect edgy, daring material. I just hope it gets funnier, too. Her first ever line on the show was, "That's all I have time for," from the "Annuale" commercial parody. Favorite character -- Hard to say at this early stage. She did a nice job with a very few lines in the Going-Away Party scene from the Christopher Walken episode. Let's say that. Grade: Incomplete.

Also popping up this season were former cast members Chevy Chase, Nancy Walls, Tracey Morgan and Horatio Sanz. Frequent host Steve Martin helped former cast member Tina Fey with her monologue. Producer Lorne Michaels appeared three different times, once with Senator Chris Dodd, strangely.

Best hosts: Christopher Walken (I know: he just stares at his cue cards. But he's so funny doing it.), Brian Williams (who'd-a thunk it?), and Amy Adams.

Best musical guests: Wilco, Spoon, Gnarls Barkley.

Overall season grade: B-. With a note about not putting in a full season. No more of that.

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