Someone had to go.
After a rebuilding season that wasn’t nearly as awful as some critics made it out to be, first-year cast member Brooks Wheelan was shown the door Monday, announcing on Twitter he would not be returning for the 40th season in September.
“SNL” usually trims a cast member or two before its fall premiere, so the termination was no big surprise. All the more so coming off a transition year in which eight of the 17 cast members were rookies, the equivalent of throwing everything against the wall just to see what sticks.
It was inevitable someone would fall off the wall.
But there’s a few questions to consider in the wake of his ouster: Was Wheelan deserving of his pink slip, and even if he was, were there others even more deserving of the boot? Furthermore, will Wheelan be the only one to be canned in the offseason, and if not, who is going to follow in his footsteps?
If you watched “SNL” in its entirety this past season, Wheelan’s exit shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was barely used, and didn’t seem to connect in any one of the sketches in which he did appear. There was one sketch early in the season that practically served as the writing on the wall in which Wheelan played himself as a gameshow contestant, and a joke pointedly played on the fact that no one watching had any idea who he was.
Of course, it’s the “SNL” freshmen who are going to be most susceptible to cuts. But it’s a credit to “SNL” that most of the newbies seemed untouchable: Colin Jost is the head writer in addition to being the new face of “Weekend Update,” so that was never going to happen. Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney got plenty of post-12:30 p.m. sketches to themselves, so they’re doing something right. Sasheer Zamata also acquitted herself nicely in a midseason entry that kicked up some attention as the series’ first female African-American cast member in ages. I’m willing to bet Noel Wells sticks around though she didn’t do anything particularly memorable, just solid impression work.
From there, the odds get a little longer. Were Mike O’Brien not already a writer on “SNL,” his on-air tenure would seem ill-fated considering how inconsistently he was used, though he got some featured sketches late in the run that may indicate he’ll be back. If there is any one person who seems most likely to join Wheelan on the unemployment line, it’s John Milhiser, who was the least-used cast member last season, according to this handy chart from comedy-news website Splitsider. If another head is going to roll, it would have to be his.
Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wheelan was the only cut and “SNL” didn’t even bother to replace him. That would actually be a nice show of confidence in a cast that may be short on stars for now, though Kate McKinnon got a shot in the arm last week with an Emmy nomination.
Don’t forget, it’s likely veteran player Nasim Pedrad won’t be back considering she is joining the cast of the new Fox comedy “Mulaney,” though no official announcement has been made.
Chin up, Wheelan. It’s sad to see a young comic take his lumps, though “SNL” history is littered with talent that didn’t last long on the show, only to find success elsewhere. Don’t be shocked if Wheelan suddenly shows up in pilot season next year, laughing all the way to the bank.
Though “SNL” is an incredibly powerful springboard for launching new talent, it’s not for everyone. Just because someone flames out on “SNL” doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have the goods for a showbiz career.