With “Saturday Night Live’’ back for its 45th season, it’s time to assess. No, I’m not going to try to determine whether the show is any good anymore, or whether it’s having a comeback, whether it should be canceled. Let’s admit it, the show has always been a mixed bag, writing-wise, from the first season on, as is the nature of any sketch series. Go back and watch the much romanticized first season, with its long prerecorded segments, and you’ll see what I mean.
Instead, I’m going to look at the players, its most important resource, specifically those in the new millennium. Say what you will about “Saturday Night Live’’ and its unevenness, it has been a talent factory since it started, introducing us to new comics, letting us watch them blossom, and then releasing them into the entertainment-o-sphere to forge their own way. Over the decades, “Saturday Night Live’’ has given us so many stars — you know the names, from John Belushi in the beginning and Eddie Murphy in the middle to the current likes of Tina Fey, Andy Samberg, and Seth Meyers.
A number of heavy hitters, including Will Ferrell (1996-2002) and Molly Shannon (1995-2001), did appear on “SNL’’ after 2000, but most of their tenures were in the 1990s and so I have not included them here on my (extremely subjective) list. Also: Four other names were constantly in my mind as I put this list together: Will Forte, Leslie Jones, Taran Killam, and Kenan Thompson. They are my honorable mentions.