“It’s a rebuilding year, as they keep saying at my plastic surgeon’s office,” host Tina Fey joked during Saturday Night Live’s 39th season premiere. But she wasn’t really kidding: With eight new players, the comedy experienced some (re)growing pains this year. Let’s revisit the highs and lows—and ponder how SNL can prepare for midlife.
1. Update ”Update”
SNL’s fake news desk hasn’t had two new hosts since Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon sidled up in 2000 — and the show’s centerpiece segment is shakier than it’s been in years. Months after his debut, all we really know about Colin Jost is that he’s got a fabulous head of hair. Solution: Give the guy fewer one-liners and up his interaction with Cecily Strong, his slightly more seasoned partner.
2. Recognize Your Stars
Wiig, Hader, Meyers, Armisen, Sudeikis, Samberg — they all signed off for bigger and (mostly) better things, leaving a vacuum at SNL’s core. Good thing it didn’t stay empty for long: Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon quickly became the show’s new MVPs, while season 39 had plenty of breakout moments for Aidy Bryant (who makes everything funnier) and Jay Pharoah (who may have finally found his niche with pretaped sketches such as ”28 Reasons”). Keep shining the spotlight on these guys, and whittle the ensemble to a more manageable number — one that isn’t overflowing with folks who fill the same function (sorry, Army of Twentysomething White Dudes).
3. Nurture The Next Timberlake
JT is one of SNL’s most valuable resources — but he can stop by Studio 8H only so often. As this year’s crop of hosts proved, though, there’s a new generation of talent waiting in the wings. Anna Kendrick transformed SNL into a delightfully dirty variety show; Drake raised its cool factor a zillion percent (even while wearing khaki shorts); Kerry Washington forced the show to confront its issues, with stingingly funny results. Bring them back as soon as their schedules allow, even if they don’t have projects to promote.
4. Ditch The Crutches
Guess how many faux talk shows appeared during SNL’s March 8 episode. Three. Three! Clearly, there’s a reason the show defaults to these parodies — they’re reliable and replicable, which makes a huge difference when you’re starting from scratch each week. That said, it’s increasingly weird to keep spoofing game shows and public-access TV when those genres carry none of the cultural weight they once did. Move away from stale formats and embrace fresher templates — like this season’s music videos featuring the ladies of SNL. In short, less Celebrity Ding Dong, more ”Dongs All Over the World.”
5. Get Dangerous
Did Leslie Jones’ race-centric May 3 ”Weekend Update” bit go too far? Maybe. But it went somewhere, unlike much of the show’s tepid political humor. (You’re telling me Fox News hosts are conservative?!) If SNL wants to stay relevant, it can’t be afraid to challenge its audience.