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Under-the-radar 'Saturday Night Live' players

Martin Short

Martin Short Credit: Martin Short (NBC)

It’s a year of major transition for “Saturday Night Live.” As the iconic NBC show begins its 39th season on Sept. 28th with six new cast members (gone are Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen), we thought it might a good time to look back at our favorite underrated SNLers. Everyone loves John Belushi, Dana Carvey and Will Ferrell, but these cast members deserve more credit:

Martin Short (1984-85)
The Canadian comic who previously performed on “SCTV” was a standout performer in a season that was filled with established comedians (Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest). While Ed Grimley, left, was his most popular persona, he’d steal any sketch with off-the-wall characters like Nathan Thurm and Jackie Rogers Jr. Plus he could sing — really well.

Joe Piscopo (1980-84)
The curly haired comic (and eventual body builder) is often a punch line when people mock “SNL.” But many forget his versatility, his Frank Sinatra impression that was almost as good as Phil Hartman’s, and how well he played opposite Eddie Murphy.

Abby Elliot (2008-12)
The daughter of Chris Elliot (a cast member for a season in the mid-’90s), Elliot was merely 21 when she debuted on the show. Her stint was a strange one: underused and relegated to bit roles. But she had great comedic timing, could do impressions (Zooey Deschanel and Angelina Jolie) and also was a scene stealer. We still don’t know why her time on the show ended so abruptly.

Tim Meadows (1991-2000)
He wasn’t the second-longest cast member in the show’s history for nothing. Meadows was often an afterthought during his long “SNL” tenure, overshadowed by co-stars who went on to major Hollywood careers (Mike Myers and Adam Sandler, for example). But he was a rock as the show transitioned from the Carvey era to the mid-’90s down years and to the resurgence under Ferrell. And honestly, who gave better advice than the “Ladies Man”? That role did get him a movie, after all.

Chris Parnell (1998-2006)
One of the go-to impersonators during his run, Parnell’s expertise was playing newscasters like Jim Lehrer, who would be key in “SNL’s” big debate skits. But as the moderator, he was always overshadowed by the debaters. After he left the show, he maintained his “SNL” connections, with guest spots on Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” as Dr. Leo Spaceman and starring opposite fellow alum Ana Gasteyer in ABC’s “Suburgatory.”

(WITH SCOTT A. ROSENBERG)

“Saturday Night Live” returns for its 39th season on Sept. 28, at 11:30 p.m. on NBC/4.

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