New Cast Members Playing Big Roles for 'Saturday Night Live'
2/2/2006 2:58 PM PT
By JAKE COYLE, AP ENTERTAINMENT WRITER
"Saturday Night Live," like rock 'n' roll, is perpetually dying.
Throughout the 31 seasons of the NBC sketch comedy show, on a near annual basis, critics have written off "SNL" for not being "what it once was."
When the immensely popular Chevy Chase left the show early in the second season, his replacement was derided. Three decades later, Bill Murray remains one of our most celebrated comics.
"It's been dying since the second season," says Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of the long-running show. "It's always about reinvention."
With it four years since Will Ferrell was a cast member and two years since Jimmy Fallon departed, the present incarnation of "SNL" has been one, Michaels says, of "transition."
But the newest crop of cast members has helped energize this season of "Saturday Night Live," which continues Saturday (11:30 p.m. EST) with old-time "SNL" favorite Steve Martin hosting, with Prince the musical guest. This year's four newbies -- Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg and Jason Sudeikis -- have all made notable contributions.
"I think you're seeing the wave of thefuture," Michaels, 61, says.
Tina Fey, who co-anchors "WeekendUpdate" with Amy Poehler and who is one of "SNL's" three headwriters, agrees.
"I think there's a generational shifthappening now," she says. "I feel, for sure, like a senior andthere's a lot of great, exciting freshman that are comingin."
The shaggy-haired Samberg has latelybecome immediately recognizable to viewers. His mock hip-hop videowith Chris Parnell about cupcakes and "The Chronicles of Narnia,"entitled "Lazy Sunday" (penned with new writers Jorma Taccone andAkiva Schaffer), was a huge hit online, where it was linked byblogs including Gawker.com.
Hader has proven himself with savvyimpressions, including a hysterical, spacy Al Pacino. He's alsoexperienced a few typical first-year roles, including playing a manfrozen in a coma in one sketch.
"It got a laugh," Hader cheerfullydefends his performance. "I've done speaking parts and not gotten alaugh."
Wiig already has a recurring character-- a checkout lady at Target who couldn't be happier with her job,who races away from her register and off to the shelves to pick upeach new product she spots.
Sudeikis, who was a writer for twoseasons before entering the cast, has proven capable in carrying askit himself -- as he did in a virtual one-man sketch where hegradually descends from shopping for a wedding ring to trying tosteal one.
"I think, in a certain sense, everyonethat's new is doing well," Samberg says. "I have nothing to compareit to, but it certainly feels like there's been a sense ofexcitement all through this season."
There have also been somebehind-the-scenes changes. Seth Meyers, the fifth year "SNL" memberknown for his Sen. John Kerry impression and the elaboratelyinsulting scientist Dr. Dave Klinger, has recently been promoted tohead writer. (With Fey and Meyers, the third head writer is AndrewSteele.)
The new position, Meyers says,alleviates his pain if none of his sketches make the show: "It'sgives me something to do rather than stew in my own juices ofdisappointment. You can actually still help the show."
Aside from the Internet phenomenon of"Lazy Sunday," "SNL" sketches were also recently made available onApple's iTunes for $1.99 each. These 21st century options, Michaelssays, "changes the whole dynamic."
"The audience of the show has alwaysbeen young and I think they're more likely to be aware of the newtechnology," he says.
Martin is returning as host for his 14thtime Saturday, but doesn't like to stroll down memory lane toomuch: "I'm not sentimental about anything after 1970. I don't knowwhy," the 60-year-old deadpans.
"I forget how young everybody was whenwe started," he says of being back at the now hallowed "SNL" studio-- 8H -- in NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters. "And when I comeback here, I think, 'Gee, everybody is so young.' Then I realize,but we all were. I'm reminded of an essential truth, that this is avery young show."
While "SNL" is still clearly geared tothe young, in 31 seasons countless loyal viewers have inevitablygrown up.
"The problem with a show that's been onfor 30 years is that it's sort of everybody's sketch show," saysMeyers. "It is, actually, your parents' sketch show because whenthey were your age, they were watching it."
"Other than 'Meet the Press' and '60Minutes,' other shows don't have that problem -- but it's a greatproblem to have," he adds.
Of course, most of the cast members of"SNL" are not freshmen. Together, they make up a genuine ensemble,which Michaels says is currently like "what football has in specialteams."
"There are people who are there who dosomething where they're the best for that."
Veteran Darrell Hammond keeps upimpressions of Donald Trump and MSNBC's Chris Matthews. FredArmisen can mimic Prince or hawk chandeliers with a Long Islandaccent. Chris Parnell remains, perhaps, the show's MVP, a constantreservoir of both middle-class straight men and wannaberappers.
Will Forte, his veins often popping, hasemerged as possibly the show's craziest performer. He recently, asthe ponytailed lead singer of the house band for morning talk show"Duluth Live," downed a fake bottle of whiskey and began screamingthings like "Go Thunderbird Spirit!"
And that still leaves Rachel Dratch,Horatio Sanz, Kenan Thompson, Maya Rudolph (who returns aftermaternity leave Saturday), Finesse Mitchell and the "TV Funhouse"clips from Robert Smigel.
If there is a star of "SNL" right now,it might be Poehler, who seems to see more screen time than anyoneelse. But it may be too early to proclaim whose generation thisis.
"Those kind of things of who went on tobecome a giant megastar, you only find out in retrospect that itwas the 'Eddie Murphy Years' and the 'Will Ferrell Years'," saysFey.
In the end, what might be the dominantaspect of "Saturday Night Live" isn't its fluctuations, but itsconsistency.
"Nothing has changed," Martin says. "Noteven Lorne's photos on the walls in his office."