'SNL' finale: Grading the new class

Marianne Dowling, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:51 PM ET


Do you recognize anyone on Saturday Night Live anymore? This season, the sketch show has seen more new faces than a plastic surgeon’s office in Beverly Hills. Only three cast members (Nasim Pedrad, Kenan Thompson, and Bobby Moynihan) have been on the show for more than five years and nearly half the cast are rookies. To mark SNL’s finale on May 17 – hosted by Andy Samberg – we grade the new class to find out which rookies finished at the top and which ones need to stay on for summer courses.

Mike O’Brien:

As an SNL writer since 2009, O’Brien started his gig as featured player with a leg up on the competition. His signature style, a strange mix of weird and sweet that can make viewers teeter between laughing and crying, has been worked into a number of memorable skits this season. He might not be the flashiest in the cast, but he’s definitely the most unique.

SHINING MOMENT: Playing a monster who gets plastic surgery in “Monster Pals” with James Franco.

GRADE: A

Kyle Mooney:

The last half hour of SNL is Mooney’s time to shine. Starring in both surreal bro-humour short films with pal Beck Bennett (see below), and hidden camera comedy experiments with an unsuspecting public, Mooney is weird and fearless.

SHINING MOMENT: Playing a guy who becomes a dance superstar and then falls from grace in less than four minutes.

GRADE: B

Beck Bennett:

He plays the straight man a lot, but Bennett has proved he’s a pro at slapstick too. Not bad for the guy who starred in AT&T ads before his big break at SNL.

SHINING MOMENT: Wobbling, falling and throwing food around as a full-grown man with the body and coordination of a baby. It’s some of the best physical comedy all season.

GRADE: B

Noël Wells:

She’s cute, she’s quirky and she’s first on the casting list anytime a sketch calls for a believable eight-year old. While her debut episode was arguably the strongest of all the newbies, thanks to her show-stopping Lena Dunham impression, she’s faded into the background since.

SHINING MOMENT: Definitely her Lena Dunham impersonation with guest host Tina Fey, as Albanian immigrant “Blerta.”

GRADE: C

Sasheer Zamata:

Isn’t it nice that after 7 seasons, SNL finally has someone in-house to play Oprah? As the show’s first African-American female cast member since Maya Rudolph, Zamata is a much-needed player who won’t be underutilized in a country with a black first lady. Unfortunately, most of her impersonations haven’t been very funny (her Michelle Obama impression last week was boring) and she’s been mostly out-shined by the veterans in sketches. It will be interesting to see what she does with a full season under her belt (she only started in January) but it looks like she’ll have plenty room to grow.

SHINING MOMENT: Dancing as Rihanna dressed up as ‘90s sitcom character Blossom.

GRADE: C

Colin Jost:

It’s tough following in Seth Meyers’ footsteps. Next to his predecessor’s effortless charm and sharp wit, Jost has come off as nervous, wooden and beige so far on Weekend Update. Hopefully next season he can gain some confidence and relax behind the desk a little.

SHINING MOMENT: Being the white dude next to writer Leslie Jones during her controversial Update guest spot on race and beauty. The fact his face didn’t completely melt off from blushing is commendable.

GRADE: C-

Brooks Wheelan and John Milhiser:

With so many new cast members fighting for a spot, there’s bound to be a couple who get elbowed to the sidelines. This year, those people are Wheelan and Milhiser, who finish the season with barely enough tape for a demo reel.

SHINING MOMENT (Wheelan): Waxing poetic on Weekend Update about his embarrassing tattoos, including his “Anthony Kiedis tribal stamp.”

SHINING MOMENT (Milhiser): Playing an overexcited dad (along with ‘mom’ Lady Gaga) who performs his daughter’s dance recital routine while in the audience.

GRADES: D-


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