Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 7 — Ryan Gosling, Leon Bridges
Ryan Gosling has been acting for quite a long time. Based on looks alone, he’s probably one of the world’s most recognizable actors. It also helps that he’s received a whole bunch of award nominations (including Best Actor) and even has a few wins to his name. Yet despite his obvious popularity, he’s never hosted Saturday Night Live before. It’s tough to know if this is an oversight or if the scheduling just never worked out. I’m inclined to say the latter, purely because Gosling’s resume is stacked with acting gigs on both film and television. What matters the most is that he’s finally here at Studio 8H to get his due.
If you’re looking to compare the two, musical guest Leon Bridges is the exact opposite in recognition. His first album, Coming Home, came out in June and I honestly cannot say I’ve heard any of his songs. This really is a night of firsts, and I’m excited to see what both men can bring in their inaugural appearances.
Kate McKinnon reached entirely new levels of excellence last night. True, she already is regarded as SNL’s strongest cast member, but it was still special watching her singlehandedly deliver one of this season’s best sketches. There’s no way “Close Encounter” could have worked without her too. This bit needed someone with a mastery at delivering absurd commentary, and McKinnon’s constantly evolving tale of her abduction was amazing on performance alone. The wild eyes, her desire to demonstrate how the aliens knocked around her boobs, and the cigarette accessory all contributed to this being a stellar and hysterical one woman show. The rest of the cast couldn’t even keep it together either. If there’s one thing we take away from this, it’s that McKinnon should absolutely do an album or have a recurring sketch of her just sitting in a chair telling insane stories. I’d buy/watch/listen to it in a heartbeat.
Pre-recorded segments were once again on point too. “Settlr” and “Nespresso” were funny and rightfully short, as some of these bits should be. The best, however, was definitely “Santa Baby”. Gosling broke in nearly every sketch last night (more on that later), but that’s more on the live aspect of the show and not his talents. With “Santa Baby,” he was clearly in his acting element, and the entire absurd material was elevated because of it. It needed to be too because the bit was about him and Vanessa Bayer both believing in and really loving Santa Claus. There were actually two Christmas themed sketches during the night, which surprised me since the holiday show isn’t for a few weeks, and this is the one I’d recommend people watch. The other…not so much.’’
Weekend Update just continued its upswing in quality. Colin Jost and Michael Che are clearly aware of how much better they are when working as a team, so it makes sense that they made the banter a regular thing. Last night had them talking about the GOP wanting to defund Planned Parenthood instead of pushing gun control laws in the wake of horrendous acts of violence, and their commentary was appropriately biting. They even took a few jabs at the candidates, though you get the sense they’re still holding back in this regard. Special guest commentators were solid as well with Cecily Strong’s new addition taking the top spot. There’s not a lot of depth to Jill Davenport from Glamour Magazine, but her wanton flirting with Jost was pretty great. Bobby Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino returned too to deliver his second hand news, and it was elevated by Gosling joining him as Angelo, the third hand news guy. Like I’ve said before, this isn’t the best Update, but it’s definitely found a groove to make it a solid good (if not, great) every week.
Lastly, in another surprise appearance, Mike Myers joined Gosling’s monologue to give it some extra Canadian flavor. Myers hasn’t done a lot lately so it’s awesome that Lorne Michaels lets him come back to be funny every once and a while. He definitely stole the monologue too, turning it from an okay Gosling performance to a great Gosling-Myers duo. You know, I think it’s time Myers got his own show again. It’s been too long.
There were a couple of clunkers last night. The first was “Birthday Party.” Aidy Bryant brought back her extra flirty 13-year-old Melanie, and this time Gosling was the unfortunate father who received her advances. It was significantly more creepy than it was funny. I get that this is all an act and Bryant is always committed to her performances (her lack of boundaries definitely helps), but it’s still so unnerving to watch this and think, “Yep, this is supposed to be a child.” Gosling’s blatant detachment didn’t make things better either. In terms of emotion and personality, he just wasn’t there, and this gave Bryant nothing to work with. Gosling also called her Morgan twice, his most glaring of errors in a night filled with pauses due to his own laughter.
“Hometown Bar” was quite a slog to get through. The premise was Gosling returning back to his home and getting berated by Kyle Mooney’s Trevor for reasons that weren’t explicitly clear. I guess Trevor wanted to embarrass Gosling with stories about their past? I’m not sure. Gosling, to his credit, soldiered on and busted out some sweet dance moves. This was also where the host’s constant breaking really brought the sketch down. It’s funny when everyone in a scene is losing their concentration, but when it’s just the guest, it can get uncomfortable. Strong looked legitimately afraid too as if Michaels was seething off camera. This sketch’s end was merciful.
“Santa & the Elves” was the other Christmas sketch I alluded to above. You know, the one you shouldn’t watch because it’s terrible. I’m surprised this made a return because it wasn’t warmly received the last time it was on screen. Maybe it’s my own tastes in humor, but it just isn’t funny watching elves want Santa to punish them because they get sexually aroused by it. To make matters worse, Kenan Thompson definitely missed his cue too, which was a shocker. The pause was really awkward, and I expected it was Gosling who skipped his entrance, and then suddenly Thompson remembered it was him and began speaking. Unfortunately this was the last sketch of the night, so it sent us off on a disappointing note.
Live comedy can trip up even the most talented actors, and we were reminded of this constantly throughout the night. Gosling couldn’t get through a sketch without breaking into a smile and having to pause for some giggling. It was endearing at first, especially during “Close Encounter”, and while this never fully went away, we began crossing into, “Wow, he just can’t do this” territory. Now I personally don’t see anything wrong with breaking. I actually feel it can make a sketch funnier and it reminds us that, yes, this show is as live as it can be. Yet Michaels is notoriously against this and I can easily see why. It got to the point where sketches would suffer because of this, and I’m not afraid to admit that this influences my final rating.
What’s especially interesting though is Gosling wasn’t a terrible host! When he wasn’t laughing at the material, he was fully committed to his roles and was a welcomed addition to the show. He clearly liked being there too! You only need to look at “The Wiz” sketch to see this as Gosling was, honestly, a very solid scarecrow. Even when Gosling did break, he always found a way to pull himself back from the brink, which is commendable in itself. So even though this was a pretty mistake addled first run, it wasn’t a bad show by any means. Leon Bridges was also fantastic, and I can see his performance here creating a whole plethora of new fans. Gosling will no doubt return, and hopefully his second time will give us a more stable show.
Side note: John Rudnitsky was a no show, and Pete Davidson was once again absent for his second week. Not enough material, or is there something more behind this? Guess we’ll find out in due time.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.