Now in its 35th season, I'd say Saturday Night Live is holding about a C average. Some weeks have stood out -- like Taylor Swift's Nov. 7 episode. But some -- January Jones' Nov. 14 episode -- have been complete and total fails.
Sure, the success or failure of a week has a lot to do with the hosts and their ability to inspire good writing or deliver laughs. But I'd say it's mostly up to the writers and the regular cast to make those guest hosts look good. So how are the cast members doing? Here's how I'd rate them.
SNL began a three-week stint of new episodes Dec. 5.
Special mention: Michaela Watkins
Yes, Michaela was canned before this season, which still angers me. I think that the weakness of the SNL bench this season has proved all fans should be outraged. In her one season, Michaela introduced a funny Today co-host Hoda Kotb and one of my fave characters in the past few years, bitchpleez.com blogger Angie Tempura.
12. Bobby Moynihan
11. Abby Elliott
I was excited when I heard Abby was hired two years ago, but I'm still waiting for her to deliver the goods. maybe if Kristen Wiig wasn't in every skit Abby could do more? Abby's Angelina Jolie last season was fun, but by now we should be seeing a lot more of Abby.
10. Jenny Slate
Jenny hasn't done much since dropping that F-bomb in her first-ever skit on the Sept. 26 season premiere. Unfortunately for Jenny, her most prominent character, Today co-host Hoda Kotb, already has been done better by the fired Michaela Watkins.
9. Nasim Pedrad
Nasim is faring better than Jenny or Bobby in her first season, showing up in more skits. Her characters haven't been that memorable, but SNL seems to be using her a lot. That, and her Kim Kardashian, puts her ahead of the other benchwarmers. Nasim's Kim Kardashian on "Weekend Update" had me laughing.
8. Fred Armisen
His Barack Obama ruins nearly every political skit in which he appears. (Thank God for The Rock Obama!) His recurring comic Nicholas Fehn does nothing for me. Armisen is saved by some of his other creations, including New York Gov. David Paterson and New Jersey gay man Zaccone. It seemed that last season Fred was trying to better nail the president's speech patterns, but so far this season he's given up on that effort. The Obama skits don't seem to follow any overall theme, like when Bush was made to look an idiot. Is SNL afraid to rock the Dem boat? Not good for a show doing political humor.
7. Will Forte
I love Will's MacGruber and The Falconer, but where have they been this season? His Jon Bovi, the Bon Jovi opposite band he does with Jason Sudeikis, is not very consistent. His other work with Jason, including Greg Stink in the "Tampax to the Max" skit, mostly hits. I love Will's country crooner Clancy T. Bachleratt.
6. Jason Sudeikis
Jason's a sleeper on SNL. A lot of times he plays the straight man to everyone else's silliness, so he doesn't get a lot of the fanfare. I do recall some great one-offs from him, including his crazy dancing man on "What Up With That?" and Pete Twinkle from "Tampax to the Max." Jason's recurring VP Joe Biden is a lot funnier and more consistent than his Rod Blagojevich, while his Jon Bovi skits with Will Forte are hit and miss.
5. Seth Meyers
I still think Seth does a great job on "Weekend Update," one of the most reliably enjoyable parts of SNL. Even on weaker "Update" nights, I can count on Seth to make me smile -- whether from a good joke or his charming delivery of a bad one. However, I won't argue with anyone who says that Seth has been a letdown as head writer of the entire show.
4. Kenan Thompson
I love this guy, no matter how bad his really bad skits get (Grady Wilson, anyone?). But Lorenzo McIntosh of "Scared Straight," Maya Angelou and even his Charles Barkley are just plain funny. And I died when he did Reba McEntire in the "Two Worlds Collide" digital short. One of the best, if not strangest, recurring skits on SNL revolves around Kenan's Deondre Cole, the singing host of "What Up With That?"
3. Andy Samberg
The king of digital shorts also delivers on the live show, including T'Shane on "Deep House Dish" and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows (although is that guy still relevant?). I also loved his Cathy from last season, but those "Roommate" skits just suck. Andy's recent and awesome imitation of Jack Johnson in "The Mellow Show" made my Saturday night.
2. Kristen Wiig
Judy Grimes, Michelle Dison, Suze Orman, Penelope, Gilly, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jamie Lee Curtis -- the beauty of Kristen's characters are how grating they are, which also is the downside of her prominence on SNL. The show uses her far too much, leaving hardly any chances for the other female cast members to prove themselves. Don't get me wrong, I love, love, love Kristen. But I sometimes prefer her one-offs like P.G.A.D sufferer Tamara Parks over her overused annoying characters such as Gilly.
1. Bill Hader
Jimmy Greenfield from Chicago Now speaks the truth: Bill Hader is currently the MVP of SNL. Even his characters that bug me, like Italian talk-show host Vinny Vedecci and Greg the Alien, have me laughing for part of the skits. And I love it that he cracks up during every "Scared Straight" skit. Unlike Kristen Wiig, Bill steps into a lot of very different roles, including his recent Dave Matthews, political pundit James Carville, actor Vincent Price, Dateline NBC's Keith Morrison, Phillip in the "Firelight" digital short and New Jersey gay man Dinato.