With SNL's 39th season coming to a close, we're taking a look at the past season with a series of posts examining the highs, lows, and other memorable moments from the past eight months. Here, we look at the performers that make up SNL's current cast, including their overall contributions to the show, memorable roles, relative screen time, and prospects for returning next season.
SNL's 39th season was a crowded one. Record-breaking crowded, even. Six new hires, plus a seventh midseason, rose the total to 17, making the current cast the largest SNL has seen during its entire four-decade run, topping even the infamously bloated 1990-1991 season. That season only had 16 at its peak, including a lineup so stacked with Hartmans, Carveys, and Farleys that few fans complained. SNL finds itself in a much different situation now, with many viewers still having trouble telling apart its five white male freshmen — which started as a joke this season but has proven to be a legitimate problem. It's a matter of supply and demand: while the number of actors has increased, the number of sketches in any given episode — and thus, the number of roles available — has remained the same. As a result, cast members had fewer opportunities to carve out their niches on the show, making it even more difficult to win over fans. This was especially true for the newcomers, some of whom are still trying to form strong partnerships with writers.
With longtime stars Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Fred Armisen leaving the cast last year (along with Tim Robinson, who was moved to the writing staff), producers have mostly turned to Taran Killam, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Kate McKinnon to carry the torch. With Bobby Moynihan, Aidy Bryant, Vanessa Bayer, and Jay Pharoah also proving to be perfectly reliable players, there's certainly enough talent to fill the void. But the fresh-faced starpower that Killam, McKinnon and Strong brought in their first years has been tough to make out from the new class, whose scramble for airtime has kicked up such a dust cloud that voices like Nasim Pedrad have been completely drowned out. Indeed, we're a long way away from the lean, mean, seven original Not Ready for Prime Time Players.
That isn't meant as a criticism of any of the current cast members. No one in the cast isn't talented enough to work on SNL, and I find it a little too mean spirited to outright call for any of them to lose their jobs just because Lorne Michaels bit off more than he could chew. Every cast member had great moments on SNL this season, regardless of how familiar fans are with them or what future may be in store for them.
While we wait for the official word to come down about next season's cast (which usually comes later in the summer), taking a look at each the individual screen time breakdown from this season gives us some indication of much the show has relied on each cast member. As I did for Season 36 in 2011, Season 37 in 2012, and Season 38 in 2013, once again I have tediously kept track of every on-air appearance and calculated — weighting major roles more than quick walk-ons — each cast member's relative "share" of screen time. And as if that wasn't enough of a huge, nerdy waste of time, I made a pie chart: READ MORE