SNL’s National Television Treasures: Where are they now?
Matt McMahon | Sunday, October 4, 2015
Ten years ago, Saturday Night Live’s Season 31 included a cast of featured players composed of Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader and Andy Samberg. When the four were all bumped up to repertory players the following season, they — along with then-recent additions Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson and Seth Meyers — ushered in a new era of Saturday Night Live, one that had the uniquely difficult task of following in the wake of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s legacies.
Epitomized by Digital Shorts like “Lazy Sunday” and the amazingly low-budget “Laser Cats” series, this era of Saturday Night Live not only lived up to the task, but was able to carve out its own identity amidst what could have been a crisis-inducing talent exodus. However, on the lead of the alienating personalities and ideas of Hader, Samberg and Forte, this era developed a unique, insular sense of humor. Appealing to a young, coming-of-age — at least comedically so — audience looking for a drastic style of their own onto which they could latch, the three goofy underdogs used their immature skill sets to grow a dedicated fanbase. As a result, these years of SNL were as much the now college-aged crowd’s as they were any other age groups’.
Now, ten years later, after each former SNL cast member has starred in his own movie (“The Skeleton Twins,” “Hot Rod,” “MacGruber”), to varying degrees of reception, all three currently head their own television series. Hader co-stars in IFC’s “Documentary Now!” and Samberg and Forte each lead young but critically acclaimed Fox series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Last Man on Earth,” respectively. In each show, the comedic treasures have etched out their own space to showcase their marked sensibilities within the context of broader, richly rewarding television.
Of the three, workaholic Bill Hader disappears most into his recent television roles, which in a way remains part and parcel to his style. Known best for his peculiar, weirdly deep character work on Saturday Night Live, Hader reteamed with costar Armisen and head writer Meyers to create “Documentary Now!,” which just ended its first season last week. Hader and company parodied everything from “Grey Gardens” to VICE News in the show’s promising six-episode first season. Hader’s chameleonic qualities are so on display in “Documentary Now!,” it’s both easy to lose him in his utter commitment to his portrayals and impossible to completely separate him as the actor behind his characters.
Meanwhile, Samberg stars as the affable, but skilled detective Jake Peralta in the best network sitcom currently on air, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Samberg maintains a strong rapport with the ensemble cast, able to play off of every single character based on his own unique, established relation, however deep or shallow that relationship may be. Through Peralta, the often-contentious Samberg exhibits a range previously untapped in his acting career, so much so that he earned a Best Actor win at the Golden Globes. In the show’s previous two seasons, he has shown he can play the subtle, serious moments just as well as the goofy: juggling bullpen antics and a romantic relationship with a defense attorney.
The most insular out of the three comedic actors, Forte centers “The Last Man on Earth” as the title’s sake Phil Miller. Miller, like many of Forte’s most noteworthy roles — read MacGruber — is ugly, often holds a whiny disposition and maintains a rather one-tracked mind. As the show’s focal point, much of the humor comes either through Forte’s perfection of the form, or, thankfully, at his expense. However, Forte has matured, perhaps as a result of his dramedic turn in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.” Miller finds redemption in very reserved, limited quantities, especially through his odd relationship with last-women-on-Earth Carol Pilbasian, portrayed by the great Kristen Schaal.
The three comedian-actors have grown to reject symbolic categorizations, such as “the sensitive one,” “the goofy one,” and “the smart one,” as their respective shows continually call on them to encapsulate varying personas. Each star more than lives up to the challenges of their current television roles, exhibiting range merely hinted at, or often very drastically exaggerated, in their tenure at Saturday Night Live. As SNL enters another year confused as to what it wants to be, it’s comforting to know some of the show’s most reliably funny recent graduates can be found on dependable series that have quickly found their footing and retained much of their stars’ charm.