Though her name will be included in the list of the latest cast departures at “Saturday Night Live,” there are those who will feel Abby Elliott doesn’t deserve to have her name uttered in the same sentence as Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg.
As Elliott’s four-year stint on the show unexpectedly ended earlier this week, not even the most generous assessment of her time on “SNL” would put her anywhere near the league of Wiig, Samberg or Jason Sudeikis, another veteran cast member who has yet to be re-signed despite the fact the new season starts next month.
But Elliott’s second-class status is a mystery in more ways than one. Though it’s unclear whether she was cut or just cut out on her own accord, it’s hard to recall an example of an “SNL” cast member who displayed as much talent as she did on the show yet remained woefully underused. Her parting is all the more confusing considering Wiig’s departure may have provided just the opportunity for her to finally make good on her potential.
It’s easy to underestimate just how great a season Elliott had in 2011-12. Despite the fact she was among the least-used cast members in “SNL’s” 37th season, according to this handy pie chart by Splitsider, which broke the story of her departure, she came into her own with consistently brilliant impersonations. Her two outings as Zooey Deschanel were among the highlights of the season, as was her Meryl Streep and Rosie Pope. That’s not even counting her reliable work as Khloe Kardashian, Rachel Maddow and Angelina Jolie.
It always seemed like there was a determination made early in Elliott’s tenure that she was best consumed in small doses. Yet it’s not entirely clear why considering she so effectively made the most of her limited opportunIties. So what went wrong for Elliott on “SNL?”
“SNL” seemed quick to pigeonhole her as an impersonation specialist. That’s fine if you’re Jay Pharoah, who has shown he’s brilliant in that department–but only in that department. Elliott seemed to have broader range but lacked the opportunity to exercise it. She didn’t get a single memorable original character off the ground but you have to wonder whether she ever really got the chance.
What probably held back Elliott even more so was that her “SNL” career had the misfortune of coinciding with the tail end of Wiig’s reign as comedy queen. She was overused and overshadowed both Elliott and Nasim Pedrad in the process. As admirable as “SNL’s” evolution has been in recent years as a female-led troupe in the boys’ club that is comedy, Lorne Michaels has always run the tires off his leading ladies, going back to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Elliott may also have sensed competition coming from the newer women. Vanessa Bayer seemed to have leapfrogged her in the pecking order and Kate McKinnon displayed enough early promise to follow suit. With Wiig out of the way, it seemed like there was at least a chance for Elliott to battle Bayer for the honor of being “SNL’s” reigning queen.
If it’s any consolation to Elliott, history is filled with comedians who didn’t let lackluster stints at “SNL” stop them from going on to become stars. As Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman and Tracy Morgan discovered, better things awaited them once they were done with the show. Even Elliott’s own father, Chris Elliott, did well for himself before and after his one woeful season on “SNL.”
At just 25 years old, Elliott has got plenty of time left to prove herself. Whatever she does next should prove a better fit for her career.