… Kate McKinnon. Which should come as no surprise, whether you faithfully watched each of season 39’s episodes or only caught a few of its sketches online.
Let’s back up. Each week in our SNL recaps, EW’s writers have selected one cast MVP – the featured or repertory player who made the best individual impression in that Saturday’s episode. Sometimes those MVP slots were shared between two cast members; sometimes, as in this season’s premiere, we cited both a New Cast MVP and an Old Cast MVP, just to spread the wealth around. Because our recaps are written by different staffers with different preferences, the system’s a little less biased than it would be if the same person had chosen an MVP each week – meaning that the season’s overall winner has plenty of broad appeal, at least among the enormous subset of the population that is EW SNL recappers.
That said: The contest wasn’t even close.
SNL aired 21 new episodes this season – and McKinnon won our individual MVP citation in four of them. She also shared the designation one week, and got four additional shoutouts in recap “MVP” sections – meaning that although someone else “won” the designation those weeks, McKinnon’s work was still worthy of a mention.
Like I said before, this is hardly shocking news. Though McKinnon has barely been a member of the SNL family for two years – her very first appearance on the show came near the tail end of Season 37 in 2012, and she only got bumped from featured player to main cast last fall – it’s already impossible to imagine the show without her. She’s a gifted impressionist, turning impersonations of everyone from Angela Merkel to Tilda Swinton into daffy characters of their own; she’s launched a few memorable original creations as well, particularly destitute Russian peasant Olya Povlatsky. But mostly, McKinnon has impressed with her uncanny ability to inject life into even the tiniest bit parts; it’s no wonder everyone seems to want her in their sketches. It’s tempting to call McKinnon the new Kristen Wiig, but her versatility makes me think she’s actually more like the new Bill Hader – a talented utility player who can make any sketch better, whether she’s its star or just a supporting player.
The year’s second-place finisher? Though initially I thought Taran Killam would have this in the bag, the numbers actually point to Vanessa Bayer, who snagged three individual citations and two shared “MVP” notices. (Thank Jacob the Bar Mitzvah boy, whom you either love or hate; clearly, we love him.) While Killam was certainly one of this season’s most visible cast members, he actually came in third place in our MVP rankings – and he’s tied with Aidy Bryant, who really broke out in her second year on SNL.
After those four standouts, the rest of the cast is on fairly equal footing; nearly everyone got at least one MVP citation, with both Kenan Thompson and Bobby Moynihan edging out the competition just a little bit with one individual and one shared mention apiece. Every new cast member added this season – all eight of them! – got at least one shoutout as well, with two exceptions: writer-turned-featured-player Mike O’Brien, and poor, invisible John Milhiser, whose onscreen absence became something of a running joke (in the recaps I wrote, anyway).
This is not meant to be a comment on either comedian’s talent; I’d cite O’Brien’s “Monster Pals” as one of this year’s best, most original sketches, and it’s hard to judge Milhiser’s abilities when we saw him get so few chances to display them this year. Even so, with approximately 500 members, SNL’s current cast is way overstuffed – and even if Nasim Pedrad’s imminent (though still unconfirmed) departure gives the show a little slack, some of this year’s new additions have to go as well. Folks who generate a response – good or bad – tend to stick around; those who fail to make an impression don’t. So consider the bottom of our MVP rankings a foreshadowing of what’s coming this summer… then enjoy this web exclusive from Season 39’s Lena Dunham episode, which features most of the year’s main MVPs grooving to Beyoncé. (Just pretend Taran Killam’s doing a killer Dunham impression.)