You’re going to A&O’s winter speaker event tonight, right? It’s with Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? They’re the new featured players on SNL, two of the most skilled cast members to join the show in recent years. Didn’t you watch last week’s episode? No? It’s the best proof I have that you should see them, so let me recap.
SNL is a team sport, for sure, but it’s also built around cast members having and making moments. So I don’t want to say Chloe Fineman won last week’s episode, but … she won. The former Groundling made the most of supporting appearances in the last 12 episodes, showing her versatility as a prostitute Prairie Dawn in “Grouch,” the awkward Brittany in “Little Miss Teacher’s Friend” and the deep-voiced, longhaired Kimmy in “Wisconsin Women.” But she didn’t score anything close to a lead role in a sketch until she appeared on last episode’s “Weekend Update,” as herself no less.
Impressions are Fineman’s comedic bread and butter, a muscle she’s really only gotten to flex as Marianne Williamson in the first episode’s town hall sketch. “Chloe’s was the kind of celebrity impression you want to tell your friends about,” Luke Kelly-Clyne writes in an ode for Vulture, after himself being impressed by Fineman’s Meryl Streep on his podcast Big Breakfast.
She does Meryl and many others in her “Weekend Update” sketch about this year’s Oscar-nominated actresses. Fineman appears as herself to extol the virtues of “steering wheel acting” before proceeding to belt “The Trolley Song” as Renee Zellweger’s Judy Garland, perfectly deliver the Saoirse Ronan “women!” speech, and ask Colin Jost “do you feel like you’re at home, Colin?” as his fiancé Scarlett Johansson. But my favorite part comes during her Little Women medley, when she goes for an over-the-top, bro-y Timothee Chalamet. It’s not as refined as her others, but the humor here is in the exaggeration, from the swept-over hair to the clapping seal laugh at the end. Fineman knows when she needs to be impressively exacting to land a joke, but also that sometimes, the person themselves is the joke.
Yang, by contrast, has gotten a fair amount of screen time so far this season. A writer from the previous season, he worked with Julio Torres on some of his signature, queer, high-drama sketches, like “Cheques” and “The Actress.” The latter is one of the smartest pieces of comedy I’ve ever seen, about an actress taking the role of the spurned wife in a gay porn video too seriously. Just watch it.
During a sketch about Russia last season, Yang broke out as an unimpressed Kim Jong Un. Now the show’s first and only cast member of East Asian descent, he does get boxed into certain impressions like Andrew Yang (but no longer!). Opposite of Fineman, Yang excels in idiosyncratic, realized characters. Most famously, there’s Chen Biao, China’s flamboyant trade-representative-turned-health-minister who’s so far made three “Weekend Update” appearances over just 13 episodes. There are also his dumb aspiring exercise instructors, Flint (“like the water”) and Amber (“like the alert”). Yes, they make dumb comments, but their funniest lines go deeper: Flint flushed his computer down the toilet after he googled “gay racism”; Amber is all about results, search results, specifically for his dad — “Where is he!”
Possibly my favorite Yang character yet debuted in the last episode, in a cut-for-time sketch. In “Coal Miners Face-Off,” he plays Big Al, the flamboyantly shady mine boss who has some history with the old guy. It’s the aesthetic of a Torres-Yang sketch, only with Yang in action, playing for campy queer high-drama alongside RuPaul. Not to mention, there’s a certain fulfillment to watching a former Drag Race recapper come to blows with the man himself.
Chloe Fineman’s Meryl Streep said it best: “These young actors are just utterly delicious.” So why not see them tonight?