Survive, from New York: “Saturday Night Live” will continue on without four prominent departing cast members, but most of them got a chance to offer up a few final laughs before the show completed its 47th season.
Word that Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney and Pete Davidson planned to leave the venerable late-night series after Saturday’s broadcast leaked out late in the week. That made appearances by the actors all the more emotional during NBC’s broadcast of SNL’s season finale. McKinnon made one more run as Ms. Rafferty, the down-and-out woman who is abducted (and probed) by aliens, but lives to tell the tale. The show used its signature “cold open” to reprise the character once more, with Bryant, Mikey Day and Cecily Strong all playing a part along with host Natasha Lyonne. McKinnon and Bryant were at the center of the last sketch of the evening, an ode to greying pigtails, with Mooney playing a prominent role.
Meanwhile, some of the cast used “Weekend Update” to say goodbye. Bryant appeared to bid the audience farewell during a segment in which she and Bowen Yang play avant-garde trend analysts — characters that have proven so popular that they have done them three times this season. Davidson offered up one final routine on “Update” in which he makes fun of his life, using the opportunity to poke fun at Fox News Channel for slamming him in 2018 for remarks he made about then-Congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw. Davidson noted that Fox News has now criticized Crenshaw as well. He also thanked “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels for his advice and patience and told viewers how much he appreciated having “SNL” as a home base, even as other recent projects ate into the time he devoted to the show. “I became hugely successful while barely showing up for work,” Davidson said.
As more TV viewers migrate to streaming services to watch their favorite scripted dramas and comedies on demand, “SNL” has taken on new importance for NBC. Once relegated to airing after the late local news in a time slot network executives didn’t consider paramount, “SNL” now runs live across the U.S. all at once, meaning that it airs in primetime in certain parts of the country. “Saturday Night Live” in the 2020-2021 season was the most-watched entertainment program on TV among viewers between 18 and 49, the demographic most preferred by advertisers.
The large number of exits brings to mind the transition “Saturday Night Live” started in 2012, when Andy Samberg, Abby Elliott and Kristen Wiig left at the end of the season, followed a few months later by Jason Sudeikis, and, a year later, by Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. The show’s remaining cast and some new members had to work to gel more coherently.
In 2022, however, “SNL” enjoys one of its largest groups of players and has developed a new generation of actors, including Heidi Gardner, Ego Nwodim, Chloe Fineman, Chris Redd and Bowen Yang. Featured players including Sarah Sherman and James Austin Johnson have also won some notice. “SNL” has also begun relying more heavily on pre-taped segments from Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy, a trio of young writers/performers known as Please Don’t Destroy.
Even so, the people leaving will be missed. Both McKinnon and Bryant have developed into mainstays of the cast, with McKinnon in particular breaking out early in her tenure on the show. Her potential exit has been mulled for years, and her stay at the show has already lasted beyond her initial contract. McKinnon has done everything from play a fiery Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a host of Trump administration officials to an off-putting mermaid. She and Bryant have also become a formidable comedy duo, often appearing together in sketches based primarily on the interactions of their kooky characters. McKinnon became known for offbeat characters like Mrs. Rafferty, a woman abducted by aliens, and Sheila Sauvage, a desperate late-night barfly. Bryant, meanwhile, won notice for her impression of Senator Ted Cruz, among other sketches.
Mooney, who joined the show in 2013, became known for offbeat sketches, sometimes in tandem with former castmate Beck Bennett. In some, Mooney offered viewers a skewed, behind-the-scenes look at life at the show. In several of these, he depicted a fictional relationship with former castmate Leslie Jones. More recently he has portrayed a blissed out Baby Yoda on segments of “Weekend Update.” And Davidson, who joined “Saturday Night Live” as a relative unknown, has become an outsize presence who appears regularly in commercials and outside projects, as well as the gossip pages. He has become as well known for who he dates as he does for his performances on “SNL.”
All the departing cast have managed to tackle outside projects during their tenure, and that has been noticeable on air. Bryant, McKinnon and Davidson have all taken weeks off at some point over the past two seasons to tend to movie or TV projects, some of them under the aegis of “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels and his Broadway Video production company. In recent years, Michaels has allowed the cast members to juggle their commitment to the show with other work.
“SNL” has in the past given some cast members their own bespoke farewells. In 2012, Kristen Wiig danced with various cast members — and Michaels himself — on screen as Arcade Fire covered the Rolling Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow.” It has become one of the more emotional segments in the show’s long history. In 2013, Fred Armisen took part in a sketch in which he sang with Kim Gordon, J. Mascis, Carrie Brownstein and Aimee Mann, among others. Their chorus: “It’s been a lovely night with you.” Viewers got the message.