Ryan Gosling likes to laugh. We may not know a ton about the actor's artfully guarded personality, but after his turn hosting Saturday Night Live last night, his penchant for chuckles is incontestable. He broke during nearly every sketch.
Even though he's been "grandma awareness"–level famous for over a decade now, Gosling is only just now making his SNL debut. He's an ideal candidate for the job because he's a wild card. His presence in movies gives no indication of how he might handle sketch comedy. Gosling's as handsome as ever, but the phenomenon of his handsomeness has kind of subsided, leaving behind a marquee actor who consistently makes interesting choices and doesn't seem too concerned with making hits. He's sort of like All The President's Men–era Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman combined: a ridiculously good-looking, quirky leading man/character actor who possibly has a secret. Whoever decided to release the trailer for his forthcoming film, The Nice Guys, on Friday did Gosling a favor, however, because seeing the actor play a wacky schlub for the first time since Lars and The Real Girl set the stage for Saturday night. The actor was game and goofy and he committed all the way to a wide variety of roles. And though it may have been distracting at times to see him laughing in just about every scene, the best hosts are always the ones who have the most fun.
Donald and Melania Trump Christmas Cold Open
Even though it feels like it's been about six months since Donald Trump hosted SNL — it's been less than six weeks — it still feels too soon to see any incarnation of him on the show at all. It's like seeing a clown dressed up as Alexander the Great in the immediate wake of Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian Empire. ("Haven't you done enough already?") Aside from that, it seems like a missed opportunity that Taran Killam's Trump bids viewers a Happy Hanukkah, but there's no follow-up milking of Trump's recent clumsy pandering to Jews this week. Perhaps that's just too spicy a matzo ball. At least the reading of Trump's Naughty or Nice list is quick and punchy, with some fun lines for Cecily Strong's Melania.
Ryan Gosling Canada Monologue
After an appealingly human stumble at the beginning — Ryan Gosling is mortal, just like all of us! — our host is forced to ditch the studied Brooklyn brogue and own up to his inherent Candianness. Helping him along with that is Mike Meyers wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, and Canada's non-union Frosty the Snowman equivalent, Bonhomme De Neige. Together, they sing a song celebrating all things Canadian, with a bizarre focus on clubbing baby seals. Personally, I spent most of the monologue realizing that Ryan Gosling kinda looks like Beck Bennett or vice versa. Way to go, Beck Bennett!
Instead of finding The One, a lot of online daters end up finding a bunch of ones, as in one out of ten. (Thank you and please donate to the Kickstarter for funding my one-man show.) This unfortunate truth is acknowledged in a when-life-gives-you-lemons kind of way with this fake ad for the world's saddest online dating service, Settl. It's a dating site for women looking to accept just about anybody, and thus avoid ever having further use for other dating sites. The guys are all awful in ways that are not overblown, from having just a slightly off mustache and haircut combo to being the kind of guy who mentions his bedtime and having exceeded it. The writers pack a lot of great lines and Leslie Jones reaction shots into a quick sketch. (After seeing Jones's desk pieces, it's obvious she knows from bad online dates.)
Following the first-ever verified case of UFO abduction, three small-town friends are debriefed by the NSA. It turns out two of them had markedly different experiences than the third. Cecily Strong and Ryan Gosling had encounters that hit on a spiritual level, while Kate McKinnon was made to undergo some experiments that sound more like what some middle school boys might want to perform on a real-live lady, rather than the typical alien probings we're used to hearing about. Everybody is more than adequate, but Kate McKinnon is exceptional, deftly delivering one funny line after the next in very specific language. (When her pants were removed by the aliens, her "coot-coot" was on display, and she was full-on "Porky Pigging it.") Midway through, though, the focus of the sketch almost shifts to the meta-sketch simultaneously occurring, which is all of the assembled cast trying not to break — and failing. As Kate McKinnon's lines get even funnier, she and everyone else just about pulls through, but at one particular moment, Ryan Gosling is back in the frame and he can not hold it together at all. Who can blame him — this sketch is hilarious.
With this digital short, the staff takes full advantage of Gosling's acting abilities. He infuses with something like gravity in the role of a fully grown man who believes in Santa, despite 30+ years of evidence to the contrary. He's wisely paired with Vanessa Bayer, who more than holds her own in the role, perking up at a potential opportunity to meet Rudolph and playing it straight and real. At the prospect of meeting the actual Santa at a holiday party, the two profess wild love for each other and dance around like a young outlaw couple in an early Tarantino movie. Eventually, Beck Bennett caves in and dresses up like "that beautiful ancient man" and it's funny how instantly Gosling is appeased — his character apparently has never seen a mall Santa before. Having the real Santa look in and flee, either of terror or for feeling left out, is a nice touch.
Aidy Bryant is at the center of this sketch as a precociously hypersexual 13.5-year old at a birthday party. (That this character is named Morgan, like her other teen character in the Girlfriends sketches, is confusing, since that character is almost as sexual but far more repressed.) Bryant spends the sketch fawning over Vanessa Bayer's dad — a push-broom mustache'd Ryan Gosling. ("Compared to your dad, my dad looks like a stack of hay with eyes," she says.) After seeing Gosling kill it as the lead in the previous sketch, it feels like a waste to put him in such a reactive role. It's worth it to see Bryant just go off as the sight of Gosling's nipples leads to a Chris Farley-style table-breaking.
The opening jokes don't get much laughs, but when Colin Jost and Michael Che do some of their now-signature tag team coverage of congress's decision to defund Planned Parenthood, the audience is into it. Cecily Strong stops by as Jill Davenport, a reporter from Glamour Magazine. It's an underdeveloped appearance in which the joke is that she's only there to flirt with Colin Jost. (Let's leave the flirting with Jost to Leslie Jones, please.) One inspired note, however, is that Strong needs a big strong man to open a jar for her, a jar which only contains a popsicle.
Bobby Moynihan is also back as secondhand news correspondent Anthony Crispino, the Italian neighborhood guy who mishears every news item. Ryan Gosling follows the long-standing trend of a host playing doppelganger to an Update character, as Angelo, Anthony's well-mulleted protégé. The two match each other's energy and timing really well, especially with Crispino's hard-to-type catchphrase — roughly, "Daaaaaaa" — making for perhaps the best Crispino showing yet.
The audience's expectations of what's considered a bully are subverted in this sketch about Ryan Gosling's late encounter with a high school nemesis. The star, playing himself, is interrupted during an interview with Cecily Strong's GQ reporter — the second sketch in a row she plays a magazine reporter — by Kyle Mooney's Trevor, who made life hell for "Cryin' Ryan Gosling" during high school. Trevor turns out to be a theater bully, berating Gosling for being off melody and not dancing very well. It's never explicitly stated that Trevor is gay, but I'm pretty sure we're to infer it from his inflection and stereotypical interest in song and dance. The sketch seems to exist in order to show off Gosling's singing and dancing abilities — and fine, fair enough! — but it unfortunately isn't very funny.
Did you see that self-consciously weird Nespresso ad with George Clooney and Danny DeVito? It was really weird. You'd have to have seen it to get what's going on in this digital send-up of the ad. Moynihan's DeVito narrate his increasing skepticism of Killam-as-Clooney's sanity — and if you've seen the ad, this is exactly what should be happening. If you haven't seen the ad, it's still probably fun just to see Moynihan do DeVito for the second time this season, and for the suggested alternate tagline for Nespresso ("Nespresso: what?").
In an exclusive look at a cut scene from The Wiz Live!, Ryan Gosling's scarecrow from "West Oz" drops in to clarify some differences between his squad and this one. Gosling's got the accent down, and he's appealingly silly, while Leslie Jones as The Wiz looks amazing even though she has nothing to do here. Overall, it feels as if someone decided SNL had to cover The Wiz Live! and the approach was almost an afterthought.
Santa and The Elves
In a spiritual sequel to Louis C.K.'s shoemaker sketch from earlier this year, Santa's elves are slacking off in a creepy effort to be disciplined by the big guy. Vanessa Bayer especially has a way of looking up at Moynihan's Santa with a huge smile that is effectively menacing for the scene. Like damn near every other sketch in the episode, Gosling is barely restraining laughter the whole time. He has trouble wrapping his mouth around commands to Santa like, "Stomp around and let your hairy belly bounce all over the place." Considering that there's two more episodes left in the year, it's surprising that the show double-dipped on Christmas sketches here. Between this sketch and the Santa Baby one from earlier in the episode, though, it looks like the show is approaching the holidays from an agreeably discomforting perspective.
On a personal note, I should mention that this is my last time recapping SNL for Vulture, before I move on to a project that will require my Sunday mornings. We may not have always agreed, but it was always eye-opening to see what you enjoyed about the show and what you didn't, and I'm glad we had the chance to watch a lot of episodes together, like a wildly dysfunctional family. Good luck out there, and may you always be the SNL cast you wish to see in the world.