Replacing Poehler

With the election over and their star cast member out of the picture, "SNL" hires two new female players.

By Judy Berman

Published November 15, 2008 11:11AM (EST)

To say that it's been a stellar year for the women of "Saturday Night Live" would be an understatement. From "bitch is the new black" to Tina Fey as Sarah Palin to Amy Poehler's jaw-dropping 9-months-pregnant rap, the sketch show has been all about the ladies in 2008. The only problem? Now that the election is over, Fey is back to concentrating on "30 Rock" and her new book and Poehler is taking some well-deserved maternity leave before embarking on a new NBC sitcom, leaving the show with only two female cast members. While I don't really have specific problems with Kristen Wiig or Casey Wilson, their work on the show just hasn't been that exciting yet.

So I was excited to hear that "SNL" has hired two new ladies to fill Poehler's shoes. Abby Elliott and Michaela Watkins will make their debut on Saturday night's broadcast. Watkins, a member of the Groundlings improv troupe, played a recurring role on Season 4 of "The New Adventures of Old Christine." Twenty-one-year-old Elliott, the daughter of "SNL" alum and "Cabin Boy" star Chris Elliott, honed her improv chops with the Upright Citizens Brigade (the group that also launched Poehler's career).

Luckily, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, we don't have to wait until Saturday night to see what we can expect from the new cast members. Both of their audition videos are already available.

Watkins' reel has shown up in a number of pieces, and they're all worth watching, but, for me, it's all about her Arianna Huffington impression:

Now, I'm not going to argue that it stands up to Tracy Ullman's Huffington, but anyone who comes up with a skit about the blog heroine waking up in a frat house has my attention. And her wacky monologue is right on: "This Bush administration is completely asleep at the wheel. They're like children at a Froot Loop contest at the wheel of a big boat. And you know what I'm talking about"? Brilliant! "You're left, you're right, but you're not center. This is a clitoris, it's not some kind of gear shift on your locomotion train"? Amen, Michaela?

Elliott's reel also looks promising: 

Though I find her entire cast of characters funny, it seems clear that Elliott excels at impressions. In fact, her talent for them is almost spooky. She manages to channel both Joan Cusack and Drew Barrymore purely via facial expression, before she even opens her mouth. It will be interesting to see whether "SNL's" writers use her youth effectively. As the clip shows, she's Urban Outfitters to Fey's "Mom Jeans."  

Of course, I'll have to reserve my final judgment until Saturday night's episode airs. But for now, here's to the next generation of "SNL" women. May they grab the torch that Fey and Poehler are passing and run like hell with it.

Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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