It’s hard to tell who laughed more at this episode: the audience or Ryan Gosling.
SNL started off Season 41 with a Miley-Amy-Tracy bang, then dropped to new lows with its Donald Trump-helmed episode, only to slowly climb back up with a couple of safe and likable hosts in Elizabeth Banks and Matthew McConaughey. This weekend’s episode starring Gosling with musical guest Leon Bridges kept that momentum going, even surpassing the previous two episodes in terms of quality writing and performances.
The episode was jam-packed, featuring a 2:20 minute cold open and three pre-taped sketches instead of the usual two. Neither the cold open nor the monologue set the bar very high – at first it seemed like this was going to be a step back, but the show quickly regained itself as Gosling proved to be a nice combination of funny, giggly, and able to support SNL’s funniest cast members. The hosts of Weekend Update weren’t as vibrant as they have been lately, but we got to see a new desk character from Cecily Strong and the return of Anthony Crispino.
All in all, there were more than a few “breaks,” a lot of sketches that surprised, and more than enough eye candy to go around. As long as Chris Hemsworth doesn’t screw things up next week, SNL is set to finish the year on a high note (come on, as if the Tina/Amy co-hosted episode could possibly be bad).
Donald and Melania Trump Christmas Cold Open
There’s something about seeing Taran Killam do his Donald Trump impression after the real one hosted (or maybe the fact that the real one is once again leading in polls) that just taints it for me, but Cecily Strong’s Melania Trump is still fun to watch. In this latest address from wannabe first couple, Hillary Clinton gets called a nutcracker, Mark Zuckerberg gets chastised for his $45 billion pledge, and Santa ends up on the naughty list for a reason only Trump could come up with: “This guy’s a foreigner who works one day out of the year and gives handouts, he’s worse than Obama!”
Ryan Gosling Monologue
After adorably flubbing the words “Saturday Night Live” upon taking the stage, Gosling kept the foreigner jokes coming with a bit about trying to hide the fact that he’s from Canada, specifically Cornwall, Ontario, and not from New York City, as was clear the moment he said “‘Za.” Luckily, SNL alum Mike Myers lives backstage and was able to come out and help him get reaquainted with his roots via Christmas song. I have to say, they’ve been really consistent with the former cast member drop-ins this season, and Myers isn’t too bad at tap dancing, either. And I liked how Cecily Strong (as an audience member) made it clear right from the beginning that they were going to objectify him throughout the episode.
Next to Kenan Thompson-as-David-Ortiz promoting the dating app, “Go Outside” on the last episode of SNL, this commercial parody for “Settl” is an even closer approximation of how pointless it feels to use some of today’s popular dating apps. As Sasheer Zamata puts it, “There’s nothing wrong with the men on Settl. They’re are just normal guys with characteristics I’m now willing to overlook.” Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, and Leslie Jones almost make settling for a guy who drives a Smartcar just because he has a 401K sound tolerable, although if this sketch was five seconds longer it would have definitely ended with Leslie Jones screaming obscenities at Kyle Mooney.
It’s been a while since I actually cried from laughing while watching SNL, but Kate McKinnon is usually involved when it happens. To say that she steals the scene in this sketch is an understatement, as her abrasively to-the-point character recounts her side of an alien abduction with lines like “My coot coot was out,” and “I was full Porky-Pigging it in a drafty dome.” Her fellow abductees (Cecily Strong and Ryan Gosling) experienced something more like a good trip on mushrooms and provided the perfect comparison to McKinnon’s tales of “off the books” treatment by 40 little grey aliens, like knocker-slapping and being dropped, pantsless, on the roof of a Long John Sliver’s. She also had great support from straight-man NSA Agents played by Aidy Bryant and Bobby Moynihan – that is, when everyone wasn’t almost losing it. It’s been awhile since we had a good break, so thanks for that, Gosling.
The second pre-recorded sketch of the night was a Tarantino-channeling short film starring Ryan Gosling and Vanessa Bayer. The pair’s acting in this one is on point as they play a couple who is way too into Santa Claus, much to the horror of Christmas party hosts and guests Aidy Bryant, Beck Bennett and Kenan Thompson. I love how, at first, you think they’re just going to be those creepy adults who believe in Santa, but it quickly escalates to Gosling and Bayer basically transforming into the robber couple from Pulp Fiction and oddly sexualizing Father Christmas, even when they know it’s their neighbor in a suit. Not only was this a great use of Gosling’s intensity as an actor, but it had just the right amount of weirdness to turn a tired concept like a Christmas party sketch into something we’ve never seen before.
If you asked me if I wanted to see Aidy Bryant hit on Ryan Gosling for five minutes just as herself, I would have said of course. But it’s even better when she brings back 13-and-a-half year old Melanie, the girl with problematic personal hygiene who says stuff like “Full-blown beefmate.” Similar to last week’s “First Got Horny 2 U,” we got another glimpse into inappropriate tween girl crushes like Melanie’s on her friend Taylor’s hunky/dorky dad played by Gosling. The writing for Bryant’s character and all the details of her fucked up childhood are hilarious, as is the sketch, right until the last moment when Bryant takes a Chris Farley-esque plunge on a collapsible coffee table and asks Gosling, “Do you like that?” Just imagine how fun that must have been.
Colin Jost and Michael Che kicked things off with a round of election jokes aimed at the usual suspects (Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush), then it was on to Congress’s handling of the lack of gun control in America. “It would be like if you called an exterminator and he said, ‘Your house is full of rats, so the first thing we have to do is defund Planned Parenthood,’” joked Che. There wasn’t really any extended back-and-forth this week, but their material on President Obama saying ISIS isn’t an existential threat had a few funny beats, and a joke about year’s most unpopular baby name lead to a big laugh at “Isis Cosby,” especially the stock photo baby that went with it, to which Che ad-libbed, with “There’s no way Isis Cosby is white.”
On the guest side of things, we saw a new character from Cecily Strong in Glamour magazine reporter Jill Davenport, a natural flirt whom you could totally see hanging out with irl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party (and liking it). Although she’s supposed to be talking about “the best tech gadgets,” she’s really just there to hit on Jost with ditzy come-ons, hair flips and requests to open jars. We also get to see what Che does when he’s not on camera.
The highlight of Update was definitely the return of Second-hand News Correspondent Anthony Crispino, Bobby Moynihan’s impression of a guy who gets his news from people like “Slippery Gary” and seems to be constantly playing a game of telephone. I love it when hosts become sidekicks to update characters, so it was great to see Gosling as Crispino’s Third-hand news guy Angelo Skaggs. Gosling matched Moynihan’s squeaky pitch and “You hear about this thing though?”s to make a joke about Charlie Sheen’s HIV and a slightly less offensive one about “Star Wars And The Four Jamaicans.”
Cecily Strong played her second journalist role of the night in this sketch where Ryan Gosling is being interviewed (as himself) back in Cornwall, Ontario. You know this one had to come from a writers’ room discussion of those hilariously awkward videos of Gosling dancing circa 1992. As soon as his almost comically misogynistic childhood bully Trevor (Kyle Mooney) tries to embarrass “Cryin’ Ryan Gosling” by making it sing, you knew a dance sequence wasn’t far off. SNL hired a couple of dancers to join Gosling for some highly GIF-able dance moves. He almost breaks (yet again), and despite being flirted with the entire episode and partially baring his chest in the birthday party sketch, Gosling understandably draws the line at being asked to take his shirt off to compare torsos with Kyle Mooney.
Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan’s impressions of George Clooney and Danny DeVito make this sketch, a beat-for-beat parody of a deeply strange Nespresso ad. It was a quick and funny journey through what advertisers want you to believe every day is like for George Clooney: suit fittings, international travel, and Sushi for dinner – which DeVito appropriately points out is “like the one thing that doesn’t go with coffee.”
Let’s hear it for inter-network synergy! SNL put the popularity of NBC’s The Wiz Live (and some of the actual costumes) to good use in this deleted scene from the live musical, in which Ryan Gosling does a spot-on impression of the Wizard of Oz scarecrow played by Ray Bolger. He finds himself suddenly transported to East Oz, where Dorothy (Sasheer Zamata), Cowardly Lion (Kenan Thompson), Tin Man (Jay Pharoah), Scarecrow (Michael Che), and Queen Latifah as The Wiz (Leslie Jones) are ready to greet him and mock him for his constant racial faux pas. Gosling also gives us a snippet of “If I Only Had A Brain,” but the best joke of the sketch was Kenan Thompson’s observation that the musical contained “About three hours’ worth” of song and dance, “minus about 150 commercials.”
Santa & The Elves
It’s December, so why not bring back the elves (Kenan Thompson, Vanessa Bayer, Ryan Gosling) that want to do butt stuff with Santa? In classic 10-to-1 fashion, this sketch didn’t really make any sense (and, oddly enough, was the second sex-with-Santa themed sketch of the night) but was just stupid enough to be watchable. Bobby Moynihan and Aidy Bryant played Santa and Mrs. Claus (once again), but it was really all about the elves not completing their toys on purpose so that they may be punished. Sexually. By Santa. Or at least that’s what we can infer from their many, many sexy Christmas puns.
So shoot, what else?