When you look at the evolution of cast members on "Saturday Night Live," you can plainly see that Lorne Michaels continues to hire certain people who fit into various archetypes. By archetypes, I mean based on the original 1975-79 cast where later cast members have even resembled those original members. One of those archetypes could be called the Garrett Morris archetype, or more notably one designed after Eddie Murphy.
Ever since Eddie Murphy left "Saturday Night Live" to greener (and then drier) pastures, we've seen African-American male comedians hired on the show who usually go on to higher ground after doing some of the same Murphy-like sketches. We all recognize the names Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and Tim Meadows as part of that pedigree. Now newer and more prominently featured cast member Jay Pharoah seems to be in the right place and time to repeat recurring TV history.
If you've seen the first two episodes of the 38th season of "Saturday Night Live," then you know Pharoah ultimately ended up being the better choice to play President Obama, as well as countless other topical characters. In fact, how many impersonators have you seen that managed to literally bend their ears so they were the perfect shape of President Obama's? Further, Pharoah has the perfect Obama height, unlike Fred Armisen's that brought a more surreal impersonation.
Pharoah's impersonations haven't stopped there just in the first two episodes. We saw him do a deadly accurate Michael Strahan impersonation while sitting next to an easy impersonation of Kelly Ripa by Nasim Pedrad. Last season, he did one of the best impersonations of Will Smith you're ever going to see. And even that doesn't scratch the surface in impersonating other notables with an astute awareness, including mimicking notable voices.
It's all enough to think that Pharaoh will be a major star within the next year. Not that we should be surprised based on "Saturday Night Live" managing to find new stars without fail every few years. But just as repeating history can be dangerous, the same can be said of repeating showbiz trajectories.
If Jay Pharaoh is truly the next Eddie Murphy, then what can be done to avoid the Eddie Murphy curse of being on top and then sinking to the morass of mediocrity? One thing we've learned about impersonators on the show is that they can't always transition well into movies because they're primarily known for being other people. The initial secret to Eddie Murphy was that he was already known as a stand-up comic and was allowed to showcase his own personality on "Saturday Night Live."
In that regard, perhaps the show should go back to featuring a block of stand-up comedy as they once did in their early days. Doing so helps guarantee a faster stardom trajectory rather than waiting on the chance of being in a hit movie that precipitates leaving the show in a heartbeat. That Kristen Wiig archetype only happens to a cast member once every decade.