SNL's Shake-Up Could Be a Step Towards Creating the Show We All Keep Asking For
Last week it was announced that Saturday Night Live would be shaking things up, with the departures of Taran Killam, Jay Pharoah, and John Rudnitsky. The announcement was shrouded in its fair share of sketchiness, when Killam made it known that this was not their (or at least his) choice, but that of the show. It’s a change that is bound to come with a whole buffet of reactions, from disappointment to not really caring at all. I would guess that most of us are leaning toward the latter, though, since Pharoah’s legacy is pretty much limited to his endearingly terrible impressions of Barack Obama and Ben Carson, Taran Killam has spent his tenure walking the line between fan favorite and exploitative homophobe, and Rudnitsky… well, fuck Rudnitsky.
Whatever the reason for letting these three go, and whatever your feelings about these actors may be, it’s hard to imagine that this exodus won’t change the general tone of SNL, to at least some small degree. Whether you like their style or not, they’ve played a large part in the storm of criticism the show has faced lately, as it’s settled into its new era of gay men as punchlines and dudebro standup passed off as Weekend Update segments.
But the second half of this SNL shakeup comes in the form of two new head writers. If you didn’t remember that Colin Jost dropped that job last year, you’d be forgiven; it was the hottest and quietest of drops. But now two new writers have co-taken the job. SNL doesn’t exactly publicize who’s behind each idea, but if you were to name your favorite recent sketches, odds are good that many, if not all of them, were written by these two, Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly. They’re the brains behind the show’s sudden political satire revival, with “Bern Your Enthusiasm” and Hillary Clinton’s “Bar Talk.” They also gave us a glimpse of our future Beytopia with the Beyonce-ruled “The Beygency.”
But perhaps most importantly, these two were there when the show made its last strong shift towards a possible heyday. With all the ebbs and flows this show has had over its lifespan, these two played a huge part in the major talent flow of 2012. That was the year Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, and Aidy Bryant all joined the show, and the year Vanessa Bayer was promoted to series regular. And while Schneider and Kelly may not have been responsible for filling the show’s cast with seriously talented, kickass women, they sure knew what to do with them. They’ve written some of the best material for these women, including one of the greatest things Leslie Jones has ever done: a rap interlude talking about stuff in bowls in the song “Back Home Ballers.”
But the real turning point for this era of SNL came in the winter of 2013, with a cast chock-a-broad full of impossibly talented women, who also happened to be sexy as hell with a talent for mixing self depreciation and self admiration into some new fantastic, equally enviable and relatable form of expression. And that has never been clearer than in the music video “(Do It On My) Twin Bed.”
If I had to choose my favorite thing this show has done since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler left, if would hands down be this song. There are a lot of close runners up, but more than anything, even more than Kylo Ren’s Undercover Boss, this song changed the course of the show at the time. And the people who made it are now running the room. This isn’t a promise of a new golden era, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. And not just because they make damn fine use of Kate McKinnon. (But also definitely not NOT because of that.)