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Theron falls flat ‘Beygency’ best sketch in SNL

LOS ANGELES, July 20, (RTRS): “Saturday Night Live” will celebrate its 40th season this fall, capping the long-running show’s midseason with a February special. But before the NBC sketch comedy power player makes it to the milestone, it must sweat through a summer of high turnover and higher speculation. Glancing back at “SNL’s” Season 39, did the show make the best of a bad situation or suffer a disastrous year? Based on the recent firings of first-year players, some industry insiders and viewers alike are saying it’s the latter. TheWrap decided to take a look at the highs and lows of the year, beginning with the most recent cast news.

“Saturday Night Live” declined TheWrap’s request for participation in this story. Low: Cast Bloodbath Brooks Whelan was fired from “SNL” last Monday, following a lone season that saw him struggling for camera time. On Tuesday, Whelan’s first-year colleagues Noel Wells and John Milhiser were also let go, while news of veteran Nasim Pedrad leaving the show for Fox comedy “Mulaney” became official. Other freshmen players Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney seem likely to return, while the future of former writer and freshman cast member Mike O’Brien feels a little more gray. Those casting calls are expected by August, if not sooner.

Sasheer Zamata, who was added midseason following a media storm over a lack of black women in the cast, shined in her debut and is a no-brainer to come back. Colin Jost, who took over as head writer, and behind the “Weekend Update” desk following Seth Meyers’ exit, is also a shoe-in to stay. Even with Zamata’s successful rushhiring and Jost quickly endearing himself to most fans, this week’s turnover has led to some in the media tagging the 39th season of “SNL” a “disaster.” But is it really that bad, in retrospect? The meaningful turnover actually began years ago, and a confluence of many big talents leaving around the same time had Lorne Michaels and company scrambling for (talented) bodies. Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader departed at the end of Season 38. Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg left together a year earlier.

No one can deny that those five were among the show’s best talents and biggest draws — but it took a while for each to establish themselves on the show, which is the norm due to the competitive format and crazy schedule of “SNL.” Despite the turmoil, head writer and “Update” anchor Meyers weathered the stormy season as his Jimmy Fallon “Late Night” succession loomed. Meyers was with the show for 13 years, Armisen for 11, Sudeikis for 9, and Bill Hader for 8. Samberg had almost single-handedly revived taped segments for “SNL” and Wiig was a breakout star by the time she left for Hollywood films. Those losses alone would kill a less-established show. Also, this certainly isn’t the first time that a new cast member didn’t see his or her one-year contract renewed. Just last year, Tim Robinson was one and done. Jenny Slate and Michaela Watkins had the same short-term stays in recent years. Rob Riggle and Jerry Minor had the same fate before that.

Low: White is the new black Zamata was brought on following bicoastal auditions targeting African- American women, a glaring omission in the cast that played out in the press. Prior to her hiring, regular players Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson — both black men — offered differing opinions publicly about why their show was without a black female cast member. Pharoah criticized the show for its lack of diversity, while Thompson suggested that at the time, the right woman of color had not yet made her presence felt in the competitive improv, sketch and stand-up comedy world.

Zamata did exactly that, but not before the controversy consumed the media over the course of several weeks, becoming an obvious distraction to the show at best, and at its worst, a black eye for the program. Prior to Zamata, “SNL” hadn’t had an African-American woman in its cast since Maya Rudolph’s exit as a full-timer in 2007. Low: Not quite Season 38 According to Nielsen’s Live + 7 metric, “SNL” averaged a 3.3 rating last season in the key 18-49 demographic. That number — while not bad at all for the time period — is down one-tenth of a point from Season 38’s 3.4 rating.

Accordingly, viewers dipped slightly as well year-to-year. Conversely, total viewers have seen a steady decline over the past four seasons. Low: Charlize Theron falls flat Charlize Theron hosted the show’s penultimate episode on May 10, plugging “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and suffering the worst Nielsen numbers of the season. The episode, which included the Black Keys as musical guest, pulled just a 2.4 in L+7 ratings. Second-to-worst on the sheet for the season was Seth Rogen’s episode on April 12, which got a 2.7. Ed Sheeran was his musical guest. High: The role formerly played by Kristen Wiig is now being played by Kate McKinnon Kate McKinnon is the lone cast member currently nominated for a supporting Emmy — though the show pulled 14 overall — and with good reason. When “SNL” needed a star, McKinnon stepped it up the most, offering fan favorite impressions such as Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber.

McKinnon was such a stud that it seemed like she showed up in every memorable sketch of the season. Also earning a nod from the TV Academy was pre-recorded music video “Home for the Holidays (Twin Bed),” by the ladies of “Saturday Night Live,” McKinnon among them. Fallon was involved in that one, too. High: Skit fit for a Queen (Bey) Do not say anything bad about Beyonce, and do not say anything bad about “SNL” skit “The Beygency.” In the digital clip, host Andrew Garfield was forced to go on the run — a la “24” and Jack Bauer — from mysterious forces after he had the nerve to tell his friends that the pop diva “is so good - but I’m not a huge fan of that one ‘Drunk in Love’ song, though.” When Garfield was chased down by the murky “Beygency,” his identity was erased. Some called it the best sketch in the show’s history. It was not that, but it was good.

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