‘SNL’ Shake-Ups & Sensationalism: Slate & Sudeikis

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed by since we waved goodbye to Michaela Watkins (we hardly knew ye) and Casey Wilson (probably for the best) and welcomed with skeptical arms the rookies Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad.  And it’s sad to report that a year later we’re already saying goodbye to the former of that dynamic young duo.  And once again, the changes are sure to raise eyebrows.  However, this time around, we don’t have a good theory as to what precipitated the moves.

With Will Forte’s departure two weeks ago the whispers began to circulate and the dominoes began to fall.  Except, they really didn’t fall so much as erect themselves next to already firmly planted playing pieces, with Taran Killam (best known from Scrubs), Paul Brittain and Vanessa Bayer from the iO Chicago, and Jay Pharoah, a comedian and talented impressionist, joining the cast, while veterans Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Kenan Thompson – rumored to possibly be following Forte out the door – remain (as of press time) at their posts.  So it came as a bit of a shock when word got out yesterday that the show had released a cast member, but not one of its established male veterans with s burgeoning film careers (or even Kristen Wiig, who may have already over-stayed her welcome a season or two), but, instead, Slate, who had only put in a season’s worth of work.

Now, if you recall last year’s history lesson on women & SNL, you’ll recall that going into the season with four women (Slate, Pedrad, Wiig & Abby Elliott most recently) was on the high side.  In fact, going a whole season with four veteran female cast members is just about as good as it’s ever been on the show.  So, with the addition of Bayer, it’s not surprising that SNL & head honcho Lorne Michaels decided to cut loose a lady.  It was a numbers game.  That we understand.  But then why add one in the first place?

It might be safe then to assume that when Bayer was hired it was already decided that Slate would not be brought back for a sophomore season (indeed, Slate’s reticence in a recent interview with PopCandy points to this).  When Watkins was let go we argued it was because SNL desired a younger (hotter) female cast, and it might have also been due to the fact that Watkins came on the show as a seasoned vet whose shelf life was most likely limited to begin with.  As for Wilson, it became clear that she just wasn’t working out on the show, you could feel the audience working against her whenever she took center stage.  But neither of these arguments work for Slate.  She is a young, attractive female, so you can rule out the first rationale.  And she didn’t elicit the same kind of dead air that Wilson did.

Yes, she had a tough start, dropping that infamous f-bomb during the season premiere:

But she wasn’t fired after that miscue and it seemed, then, that she would ultimately benefit from the exposure.  Indeed, the fact that NBC didn’t demand the video be removed from YouTube just showed that they really didn’t mind the publicity, and weren’t holding a grudge against Slate the same way they did against say Norm MacDonald or Charlie Rocket.

After stumbling out the gate it did take Slate a little while to find her footing, often seeming timid and somewhat overwhelmed in sketches, perhaps still stinging from her initial near-disaster.  However, as the season progress she became more comfortable, especially after she gained some positive notoriety with her character Tina Tina Chanuse (below), a role she would reprise with hosts J. Lo and Gabourey Sidibe.

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With Chanuse becoming a popular recurring character, and with Slate’s spot next to Kristen Wiig on the frequent Today Show parodies (a role she took over from the dispatched Watkins), things were looking up going into her 2nd season.  And her stock only rose this summer with the mini-viral sensation Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, which she co-wrote & conceived, as well as voicing the titular character.

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If she was fired after accidentally letting an obscenity slip in her first episode, that wouldn’t be especially surprising.  But after surviving the year, developing a popular recurring character, and drumming up some buzz during the summer hiatus, her dismissal now is somewhat more surprising.  Perhaps it was just a case of being miscast all along.  Maybe it was just as mutual as the Forte departure.  Maybe the success of Marcel demonstrated that she can be successful outside of SNL, riding the ever increasing-wave of web video.  As a successful comedian and UCB performer before her call up the bigs, maybe she and/or the show felt her talents were better served elsewhere, or they thought the had already outgrown the program.  With her role on Bored to Death, perhaps she felt or they felt she was ready to be a full-time actress, or maybe her other acting commitments got in the way.  However, these are all just uninformed conjectures, and in the end we’re still left scratching our heads, wishing the best to Slate, whom we admired before her ascension, and whom we’ll continue to follow.  And, at the same time, we turn and welcome Vanessa Bayer, and hope that her stint is longer, and begins with a little less drama.  On the bright side, ew get to use the ‘Yvonne Hudson’ category for this post.

And, it’s not all bad news, for when SNL closes a Jenny Slate door they open a Heather Campbell window, as Campbell, frequent performer at the UCB LA, as a member of the improv team Last Day of School as well as the brilliant sketch-comedy troupe “The Midnight Show,” has joined the show as a writer.  We were fortunate enough to see Campbell many times on the UCB stage (and once, at a party, watched her draw from memory some rather impressive, and hilarious, renderings of cartoon characters), and we think it won’t be long before we see her on screen.   Until then, we’re looking forward to her writing sketches like this one:

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(Sidebar: It’s interesting that while the previous rounds of new hires seemed to pull predominantly from the UCB – Slate, Pedrad, writers Ryan Perez and Christine Nangle last season, Wilson and Bobby Moynihan before that – making the UCB a kind of SNL AAA affiliate (not unlike Second City before it), the new hires, save for Campbell, come from other improv schools and backgrounds.  Whether this is an attempt to keep things fresh or a repudiation of the current UCB comic sensibilities remains to be seen).

In lighter news, our favorite cast member, Jason Sudeikis, Suds, has been making the tabloid rounds for his relationship with January Jones.  After Jones hosted SNL last season we were not shy with our criticism of her performance, and we also didn’t hide our feelings about her work on Mad Men (quick recap: we think she’s a terrible actress), so we’re not thrilled that they’ve become an item (especially on the heels of the Fred Armisen-Elisabeth Moss break-up, which we were quite devastated about), but we’re going to give Sudeikis the benefit of the doubt here.  As for Jones, we can’t blame her for falling in love with Suds, especially the way he guided her through some of the rougher sketches during her hosting turn (who wouldn’t become smitten with the guy while laying on a picnic blanket next to him, gazing into a pretend sky?).

However, it is a bit frustrating that he’s finally getting the attention he deserves, but mostly for whom he’s dating and not for his budding film career (see his recent supporting roles in The Bounty Hunter & Going the Distance).  For example, there’s this typically blithe Vanity Fair interview, that seems to care more about his love life and tossing out jovial softball questions than learning anything important about the guy or SNL.  But, then again, this is coming from an SNL nerd who’s read Live From New York twice cover to cover (and is considering doing it again).  Jason, January, we wish you the best of luck.  But let’s not get any ideas about a second chance at hosting.

And now let’s get excited:  The 36th season of SNL premieres on September 25th with host and new mom Amy Poehler!  Let’s hope for a sequel to this.

1 Comment

Filed under Analysis, Flashback!, Saturday Night Live, Yvonne Hudson

One response to “‘SNL’ Shake-Ups & Sensationalism: Slate & Sudeikis

  1. Eliot

    Ellen Cleghorne FTW!

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