Saturday Night Live, Season 41, Episode 7, “Ryan Gosling/Leon Bridges”
Airs Saturdays at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
Host: It would be hard to call Ryan Gosling an objectively good host. He is breaking throughout the show, half of his performances come off as wooden and tense, and his characters could largely be eliminated from sketches without altering them too dramatically. But damnit if Gosling isn’t just pleased as punch to be on the stage tonight. From the moment he walks out onstage for his monologue he is visibly nervous, delivering his lines with a shaky voice, but under those nerves is excitement. Most hosts talk about how they’re so happy to be “here” hosting the show, but Gosling is the first host in a long time who seems to be in genuine disbelief at the opportunity afforded to him. Watching him break into wide-grinned giggles as Kate McKinnon complains about getting short shrift on a UFO and trying to tamp down a smile as Aidy Bryant hits on him in increasingly bizarre ways is adorable. Just look at his Angelo Crispino: No one needed to see an Anthony Crispino knock0ff, but Gosling is clearly a fan of the character, and his enjoyment of the bit makes it fresh, because sometimes there’s nothing more enjoyable than just watching someone have some fun.
Musical Guest: Leon Bridges didn’t start out by trying to copy Sam Cooke. His R&B-throwback vibe is just the sound that speaks to him, and much like his host, he’s clearly excited to be performing in 30 Rock tonight. While his enthusiasm hurts his first performances a little, sounding a half-step out of tune with the rest of his band for the majority of “Smooth Sailing”, when he comes down, magic happens. “River”, his second performance, is a gospel that chooses to go soft instead of sweeping, with Bridges acting more of like a band leader than a front man. But by stripping away much of the flare of “Sailing”, Bridges finds something meaningful in just singing, rather than performing.
Best Sketch: A pattern quickly emerges tonight: If Gosling is playing a character close to himself, like the “GQ Interview” sketch or the “Birthday Party” sketch, then the sketch will be dry and struggling to find a purpose; if Gosling is playing a character outside of himself, however, like the “Abduction” sketch or “The Wiz” sketch, then the sketch has some kind of crackerjack energy to it. “The Wiz” makes the most sense as a sketch, with Gosling’s fantastic rendition of Scarecrow from the 1939 film clashing with the hip world of The Wiz. But unfortunately for “The Wiz”, SNL decided early in the evening to just put Kate McKinnon in a chair and let her loose for five minutes. McKinnon long ago cemented her status as an all-timer, but watching her express dismay and surprise at having forty grey aliens slap her knockers while her fellow abductees get to see God is a good reminder why she’s earned that status.
Worst Sketch: What the hell is going on with the “GQ Interview” sketch? Kyle Mooney is just unhinged and too weird and completely breaks the sketch. Gosling is used just as a prop to dance and sing and make the audience hoot and holler. Bobby and Cecily are there only to feed their scene partners lines. It’s a sketch full of people trying to find the joke, but with everyone looking for it in different places, and none of the supposed angles on the joke are funny on their own, let alone when paired with what everyone else is doing.
Weekend Update: Angelo Crispino aside, Update is kind of a mess tonight. Che has a good joke about how Fox News would skew the plot of The Wiz into a tale of double homicide, but the anchors have no kind of chemistry. When they dig into the recent New York Times editorial calling for gun control and the defunding of planned parenthood, the kind of material these two normally killed in the past, they aren’t able to find enough of a through-line to make the material work. Jost and Che end up just telling jokes in circles around each other, never able to connect their material in any way that elevates the segment as a whole. There’s flashes of what these two are capable of, like last episode when they swap jokes, or this week when Che is too busy listening to music to bail Jost out of a sticky situation. These two work best they treat each other with friendly animosity, but they seem incapable of going with that bit whole hog. Instead, there are just get moments of disconnected jokes without much chemistry. In addition to this, the panel also has a disastrous one-note character, as Cecily Strong plays a tech reporter who has the hots for Jost. The joke is announced from the moment the character rolls in from off screen and never escalates anywhere, plus is a bad look by not even trying to legitimize the character as a reporter in any way. Instead, it’s just a career woman in a dude-heavy industry fluttering her eyes at one of the anchors.
Other Notes: Two weird revivals of sketches this week, with the naughty elves and the birthday party. The pretaped bits this week are fantastic: One casts Gosling and Vanessa Bayer as a Natural Born Killers-style couple who are really into Santa, another relentlessly mocks this dumb commercial where George Clooney grooms Danny DeVito into a proper coffee drinker. Next week is Chris Hemsworth and Chance The Rapper.