Friday, September 22, 2006

He Is, Apparently, No Longer Carol

Probably anybody with an interest in goings-on at “Saturday Night Live” has read news reports indicating regulars Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz will not be returning for the upcoming season. The Same “SNL”-focused group probably also has been too busy fawning over “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” to think about the implications of the actors’ sudden departure. In the same way that the loss of Will Ferrell, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri and the like marked the end of one “SNL” era — namely, one whose heyday coincided with the beginning of my high school days, and, thus, a period when I had a lot of Saturday nights spent at home — the loss of Parnell and Sanz marks the end of another.

If you’ll recall, these two joined the cast in 1998, along with Jimmy Fallon. While Fallon’s popularity skyrocketed, he left the show at the end of the 2003-2004 season. (And then apparently died, I’m guessing, with his corpse being hideously re-animated for Super Bowl commercials for Pepsi.) “The other two,” as I’m sure they were probably often called during their initial days alongside Fallon, lingered on, and grew into dependable contributors to the show. And it’s so strange for me to think of these actors — whom I still kind of thin of as being new, just by virtue having shown up after the Ferrell-Shannon-Oteri reign — as being actors who have performed on the show for remarkably long stretches of time. Only veterans like Darrel Hammond, Tim Meadows and the late Phil Hartman can claim longer tenures.

Parnell, in a lot of ways, was the new Phil Hartman — an everyman who although sometimes got to be very funny more often played supporting roles. His talent even earned him the opportunity to be re-hired to the cast after being fired during the summer of 2001. Allegedly, Ferrel and Chris Kattan lobbied to bring Parnell back. This second part of his tenure of the show allowed him some of his better moments, including his out-of-the-blue rap odes to people Kirsten Dunst and Britney Spears and his performance in the phenomenally successful “Lazy Sunday” video. Unfortunately, this latest news has given Parnell the unenviable status of being the only person to be fired twice from the show. Regardless, he had a good run.

Sanz evolved into a hybrid of John Belushi and Chris Farley — and not just because he was fat. He had a knack for emulating their style of humor, which often involved yelling, pratfalls and playing dumb. For what it was, he did it well, even if some episodes relied too heavily on his antics. Sanz even briefly co-hosted “Weekend Update,” a claim few of even the biggest names in “SNL” history can make, even if Tina Fey took the job back after her baby popped out. This last season, Sanz, whose grinning, unpolished delivery had previously turned a lot of viewers off, introduced a new character, Carol, whom a Chicago Sun-Times article beautifully described as a “grotesque floozy who somehow dazzles single men.” The character worked, even if she reminded me of something Farley could have done just as well. In all, by virtue of being the requisite “fat guy,” he did add something to the show. A Variety article later ran with the headline “‘SNL’ Cast Slimming Down,” and one can’t help but think the line somehow worked as a jibe against Sanz.

Lorne Michaels has vowed that budgetary restraints have required him to eliminate four cast members from the regular line-up. On top of Parnell and Sanz, Finesse Mitchell was also dismissed. I doubt anybody will serious miss Mitchell’s presence, though I can’t help feel that he was the victim of just not appearing in the right sketches more than being devoid of talent. Keep in mind that a similar fate befell Jerry Minor and Dean Edwards, both of whom I’ve seen be funny elsewhere. In any case, the fourth person to be named especially not-ready-for-primetime has been a matter of some speculation.

I would rule out Kenan Thompson right away. As crass as this might sound, I don’t think “SNL” could exist without a black guy, not for the sake of having a token character but because there are too many famous black men ripe for parody out there. Besides, Kenan has done well. I’m honestly proud to watch the opening credits and remember that he’s the fat one from “Good Burger.” Beyond that, Kenan appears in a lot of sketches — perhaps at the expense of Finesse Mitchell, one might speculate — and is consistently good.

The same reasoning would suggest that Maya Rudolph should stay, though I’ve read several reports that she’s on the short list of possible terminations. I like Maya. She’s hilarious. But comic appeal amounts more to taste than anything else, so I’d offer the fact that Maya is simply too functional to get the axe. She can — and has — played white, black, Asian and Hispanic characters, both male and female. As long as Condoleezza Rice is in the public eye and Donatella Versace hasn’t overdosed, they’ll be a need for this one.

I’m less optimistic for Fred Armisen and Will Forte. Though often funny, their spots may be usurped by newcomers Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader. Armisen and Forte can sing, sure, but I’m not sure of sketches like “The Prince Show” and “Funny Nonsense-Singing Professional Guys Who Ruin 'Weekend Update'” are popular enough to warrant another year on the show. Speaking of Samberg, Sudeikis and Hader, I’m certain they won’t be going anywhere. They’re the new blood. Everybody seems to love Samberg, though he’s never struck me as more than a shaggier Adam Sandler. Sudeikis gets my vote for the cast member who could best fill Tina Fey’s slot at the “Weekend Update” desk alongside Amy Poehler, while Hader — my personal favorite — is such a talented impressionist that I feel he could ably play just about any white guy he wanted. This is perhaps an especially worthwhile virtue, seeing as how the 2008 elections aren’t that far off.

The last of the freshman class, newbie Kristen Wiig, has been promoted up from a featured player to a repertory player. This is especially good, and I’d like to see her do more on the show. Despite her newness and her the small repertoire of characters we’ve seen her perform, Wiig is a safe bet almost solely because she’s one of the show’s current three female stars. And we all know that “SNL” rule about having at least three women in the cast at all time, lest Lorne Michael’s heart turns to stone and he dies. Or something. Seriously, look back. There’s never been a point in the show’s history when it’s had less than three female players, though the end of Ana Gasteyer’s run marks the only time when the show boasted five — her, Fey, Rudolph, Poehler and the recently departed Rachel Dratch.

There’s a few long-timers I feel won’t be going anywhere. Darrell Hammond will die at 30 Rockefeller Center, I’d wager, though I feel Hader could perform a lot of the characters Hammond does if Hammond ever called it quits. And Poehler will probably also stick around. I feel she’s a fan favorite, even if she seems like a little part of her soul is slowly dying.

Finally, that leaves Seth Meyers. He’s appealing enough, but I’m strapped to think of what characters he does that I really like. Since John Kerry dropped off the face of the earth, I don’t think he’s had any. Conversely, Michaels promoted Meyers to the head writer position that Tina Fey vacated. I honestly have no idea whether Meyers has the talent to fill Fey’s spot, but for all I know a lot of the sketches I’ve enjoyed could have been written by him. Head writer status would make me think he wouldn’t be going anywhere, but I suppose Lorne Michaels can technically do whatever he wants.

To summarize, I’d bet that the following are locks for returning: Thompson, Rudolph, Samberg, Sudeikis, Hader, Wiig. The candidates for pursuing their future film careers, on the other hand, stand as the following: Forte and Armisen, with Hammond, Poehler and Meyers most likely coming back even though I think the show could succeed or even improve without them.

I’ll be interested to see who, if anyone, is missing from the opening credits when the thirty-first season premiere in October. Of course, It’s not like the fourth and last of the fired cast members will be entirely without any forum to employ their talents. My suggestion: put a call into NBC to find out if “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” or Fey’s “30 Rock” might be hiring.

A few notes:
EDIT: I may not know who else will be leaving "SNL," but I know someone who'd like to replace them. Cat Power. That's right. Chan Marshall, the woman with the heartbreaking voice and drunken stage antics, told a New York Times reporter that she'd like to audition for the show. That's a season premiere I won't miss.
[ link: Chan Marshall's comic aspirations ]

1 comment:

  1. It ate up my comment!

    in short...

    Love me she's a no brainer.

    I know what you mean about andy but i dont get the Andy phenomenon...he's no adam sandler.

    btw, have you seen this?