This month will probably mark a career pinnacle for Kristen Wiig, who closed out her sixth season as a featured performer on “Saturday Night Live” and received rave reviews at the box office for her star turn in “Bridesmaids.” Which may make the following bit of advice for Wiig seem somewhat ill-timed, but here goes.
Leave “SNL.” Now. The show will be better off for it, and so will she.
That may seem an especially strange sentiment considering Wiig probably clocks more screen time than any of her cast mates. In a recent New York Times Magazine interview, “SNL” impresario Lorne Michaels suggested she was one of the top “three or four” best performers of all time on the long-running series–a stunning estimation given the talent that has come through there.
But you can seen Michaels thinks highly of her. In recent seasons, he has run the tires off of Wiig by overusing her to the point where last season there were episodes where she seemed to be in every single sketch on a given night. Consequently, this past season her stable of recurring characters–Kathie Lee Gifford, Suze Orman, Penelope, Gilly, Target Lady–come across as creatively exhausted. Wiig has acknowledged the overuse herself, having retired some of those characters, but it’s too little too late: They’ve all bled together into one whacked-out shapeshifter that’s worn out its welcome.
With the momentum “Bridesmaids” is providing her movie career, Wiig has got to be thinking this is the right juncture to move on to greener pastures. Let’s not forget she’s not only the star of the film, but its co-writer. Surely she’s got ideas she wants to execute that last longer than three minutes. Or maybe NBC has bigger ideas for her, with the network having already successfully transitioned Tina Fey and Amy Poehler from “SNL” to their own primetime vehicles.
As hard as it might be to see a franchise player exit, “SNL” is ready to absorb the loss if Michaels takes a look at the distaff side of his own bench. Vanessa Bayer has had a breakout rookie year, getting recurring assignments like her Miley Cyrus sketch that often take cast mates years to earn. Abby Elliott and Nasim Pedrad have been there a little bit longer, but they’re underestimated and underused. Getting Wiig out of the way would force “SNL” to lean on these women more often than it does.
Which isn’t to say Wiig is the only loss “SNL” could suffer going into next season. Three other major players on the show arrived roughly the same time Wiig did: Jason Sudeikis, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader. Don’t be suprised if Sudeikis leaves given the way his film career could take off too after starring roles in “Hall Pass” and the upcoming “Horrible Bosses.” Samberg seems like he’s having too much fun to leave and Hader probably just had his best season yet, launching the only memorable new “SNL” character this season that just begs to be turned into a horrible movie: Stefon, guide to Manhattan’s weirdest nightclubs.
But even the guys could stand to lose some talent. Taran Killiam and Paul Brittain didn’t burn as bright as Bayer but seemed to get better and more comfortable with every episode; they’re keepers.
The only question mark from the rookie class is Jay Pharoah. True, he may have provided some of the biggest laughs of the season–he’s a truly gifted impressionist, and his mimicry of Denzel Washington and Will Smith was scary good. But Pharoah has been little-used outside of those impressions and he looks positively lost in skits in which he’s not called on to impersonate someone. Maybe he needs some more seasoning, or maybe “SNL” is not the right vehicle for him.
No doubt Lorne Michaels and his team are raising some of these very same issues as they prepare for another season. At least they should know they’ve got a deep enough bench to say goodbye to some stars if need be.