When Amy Poehler left SNL in December of ’08, Kristen Wiig suddenly became the show’s only full-fledged female cast member. And even after Abby Elliott was officially promoted to repertory player in 2010, Wiig still stood out as one of the series’ most visible performers — and its most visible female player by far. With a dynamo like Wiig dominating the stage and taking nearly every female speaking role, it was nigh on impossible for any other woman to make an impression.
Now, though, Wiig is freeing up her Saturday nights — and the sketch show’s four remaining ladies (Elliott, Vanessa Bayer, Nasim Pedrad, and newcomer Kate McKinnon) may finally have a chance to shine. But which one of these funny girls has what it takes to fill Wiig’s formidable heels? Let’s consider them one by one:
This second-generation SNL performer first made headlines for dating fellow cast member Fred Armisen — reportedly before he split from ex-wife Elisabeth Moss. But Elliott isn’t notable only for her personal life; she’s also a skilled impressionist who can play figures as different as Rachel Maddow and Zooey Deschanel with ease. What Elliott doesn’t have is a single memorable original character. If she can introduce one next season, though, she’d be a strong contender for Wiig’s throne.
When Pedrad joined Saturday Night Live as a featured player in ’09, she did so alongside fellow tiny brunette Jenny Slate — and most viewers could barely tell the two apart. But since Slate left the show, Pedrad has stood out much more. Her purring Arianna Huffington is a regular Weekend Update guest, and Bedelia, a nerdy original character, killed the first time she appeared. Pedrad’s youthful looks do mean that she’s often relegated to playing children — but her Iranian heritage also gives her a slight edge over SNL‘s other female cast members. (Being “ethnic” means Pedrad has played everyone from Nicki Minaj to Charlyne Yi to Princess Jasmine. The weird implications of this are a question for another time.) This versatility, plus Pedrad’s great timing, could easily put her next in line for Wiig’s spotlight.
Judging purely by screen time, this ImprovOlympic alum might be the next Wiig. She seems to appear in more sketches than Elliott or Pedrad each week, even though she’s still technically a featured player. Thanks to her Miley Cyrus impression, her costarring role in the “J-Pop America Fun Time Now” sketches, and her Weekend Update partnerships with Fred Armisen (they play a variety of dictators’ “two best friends from growing up”), Bayer has also had more major showcase opportunities than any non-Wiig female cast member. But Bayer isn’t as versatile as Pedrad or Elliott; most of her performances look and sound the same, whether she’s playing Hillary Clinton or the maid who works for The Californians. It’ll take more than wide eyes and enthusiasm to get Bayer up to Wiig’s level.
SNL‘s newest cast member is a bit of a wild card. As of now, she’s only appeared on five episodes total — and, since each of those episodes functioned partially as a showcase for the departing Wiig, McKinnon hasn’t had much time to make an impression. But thanks to her old job, she’s an experienced sketch comedian. Her dry delivery and apparent fondness for off-kilter characters like Helga Handler, the Swedish host of a talk show much like Chelsea Lately, also echo Wiig’s own quirks. It’s too soon to tell whether McKinnon will break out — but from where I’m sitting, she seems like a formidable candidate to step into Wiig’s place.
But hey, that’s just my opinion. Which member of this quartet would you vote Most Likely to Replace Kristen Wiig in Our Hearts and Minds? Give your answer in the poll below, then explain yourself in the comments.