Some might argue that Saturday Night Live isn’t as funny as it was many years ago, but what isn’t up for debate is that this weekend’s season premiere — thanks to politics and cast changes — is one of the most heavily anticipated in a very, long time.
With the presidential race swinging into full gear, no other show on television has its finger on the pulse more than SNL (Saturday, 11:30pm ET). Host Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted) and musical guest Frank Ocean will kick off the show’s 38th season, and most of the buzz centers around the two candidates vying for the country’s highest office — especially with the series again featuring two politically themed Weekend Update Thursday special editions as it did during the last presidential election (this year’s specials air Sept. 20 and 27 at 8pm ET).
Executive Producer Lorne Michaels confirmed this week that cast member Jason Sudeikis will return this season to play Mitt Romney (as pictured above) and Joe Biden, but an even bigger scoop was revealed Thursday when head writer Seth Meyers said on the Today Show that ace impressionist Jay Pharoah will be replacing Fred Armisen as Barack Obama. Many people in the past criticized the decision to not have an African American cast member play the president, so the choice to to elevate Pharaoah should be well received.
“It’s very exciting,” Meyers said to Today‘s Matt Lauer of the new season. “Obviously, political seasons are a great time for us, and new cast members are exciting to have around.”
The focus on Pharoah’s promotion and Sudeikis’s return fortunately takes the spotlight away from the fact that SNL has lost three prominent cast members from a year ago. Without question, the biggest of those loses was Kristin Wiig, who appeared in almost every weekly sketch. Also moving on were Andy Samberg and Abby Elliot. Fans of the show are likely reminded on the 1995-96 season when Michaels let go nine of the 14 cast members and brought in then-unknowns Will Farrell, Darrell Hammond, Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri.
So who will fill the void moving forward? That would be new featured players Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson and Cecily Strong. According to NBC, Bryant trained with iO Chicago, Annoyance Theatre and was an ensemble member of the Second City E.T.C Stage. Robinson, also an alumnus of The Second City, performed on their Mainstage and in their National Touring Company. He has also performed at the iO Theater in Chicago and at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. Strong has performed as a member of the Second City National Touring Company and has studied at the iO Theater.
“The fun thing when you have new people, you really don’t know the breadth of their talent,” Meyers told Lauer. “We had our first [rehearsal earlier this week], and you could just see … these kids are really good, they have a lot of moves.”
Time will tell how those moves mesh with the current cast, but the one given with Saturday Night Live is that nobody does political parody better. And as much as I am looking forward to seeing Sudeikis and Pharaoh skewer the two presidential candidates, something tells me the biggest buzz next week will involve Bill Hader’s impersonation of Clint Eastwood talking to a chair. And that certainly would make my day.
Photo (Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney): Dana Edelson/NBC