SNL Hopes You Like Watching Ryan Gosling Lose It

Comedy Reviews Saturday Night Live
SNL Hopes You Like Watching Ryan Gosling Lose It

Ryan Gosling’s third hosting gig was his least disciplined yet. That sounds like a complaint, and it sort of is, but I’ve always found it difficult to refuse the handsome Canadian’s deceptively blank charisma, and I can’t start now. The guy has a permanent case of the giggles, which has always been endearing enough, even if it tosses his Saturday Night Live episodes into timing chaos. (I can only imagine that the show has a break glass in case of Ryan contingency plan, tonight meaning that the episode threw to commercial at odd and extended times, and that the band vamped overtime in the breaks.) As intense and presumably professional as the Oscar-nominated actor is on movie sets, the dude simply cannot keep his shit together in front of a live audience. Or at least an SNL one.

Your enjoyment of a Ryan Gosling episode, therefore, is going to come down to your tolerance for shenanigans, something the stuffy student of sketch comedy in me should object to. Seriously, Gosling sent every single sketch tonight hurtling into chuckle-happy, Carol Burnett Show breaking. Like, every single one. Gosling busting up during the cold open return of Kate McKinnon’s Colleen Rafferty UFO sketch is one thing (his inability to stifle arguably made that sketch into the institution it became), but in one piece after another, there was Gosling, gamely attempting to stay in character and not infect his scene partners with the titters. If there’s one thing that keeps even me from getting to bent out of shape over all this chummy silliness, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be anything truly self-indulgent about it. Gosling genuinely seems like a goof who can’t handle live comedy without violating the reality of his absurd sketches, his inherent likability sanding down the hackles on my back—at least partway down, anyway.

Ryan Gosling’s monologue (the one time tonight he mainly maintained) took on the whole Ken situation, with the actor first promising that he’s not going to talk about his ubiquitously memed Barbie role—and then singing a gorgeously dippy paean to his “breakup” with the sun-bleached comic creation. (Sung to Taylor Swift, for added appeal.) When his costar in the upcoming The Fall Guy, Emily Blunt, stormed the stage to berate Gosling for ignoring their movie-promoting needs in favor of more Ken (“You’re Kenning—I hate that that’s even a verb”), it’s a Barbenheimer reunion, with Blunt succumbing to the need to sing goodbye to her own beloved (?) Oppenheimer character Kitty, but only after smashing props over Gosling’s head as reminder of the cool, choreographed stunt scene they had originally planned. It’s elaborately goofy and musically impressive, and Gosling apparently can only stay in character when playing a version of himself.

The Best and the Rest

The Best: While the host’s unintentional showboating distracted mightily from the writing tonight, there was a welcome undercurrent of ambitious absurdity tingling through several sketches. And while Gosling completely infected Heidi Gardner about halfway through, the talk show sketch where guest Kenan Thompson is distracted by a pair of audience members who inexplicably look just like live-action Beavis and Butthead at least reached for some deadpan craziness. I complain a lot (aaaand how, say regular readers) about SNL‘s exhausting penchant for having someone in a sketch explain the sketch, but if someone’s going to do it, Kenan at least brings some humorous exasperation to the chore. As an AI expert whose eyeline is repeatedly invaded by Gosling (in blond pompadour and pointy prosthetic), Kenan’s initial double-takes gradually escalate to furious confusion, especially since interviewer Gardner steadfastly protests not to know what the hell he’s talking about. Until the inevitable breaking, Gosling does a good job of being equally confused by Kenan’s mounting irritation, looking around cluelessly when Kenan points at his “Death Rock” t-shirt as proof that there’s an actual Beavis in the house. Ratcheted up when Gosling’s seat is swapped with a guy (Mikey) who looks even more unnervingly like Butthead, and the whole premise plays out once more, pretty delightfully. Then, after both offenders are removed, another camera angle shows Kenan how they’ve been seated next to each other, his pleas for someone else to notice falling on deaf ears. If you want to quibble over Gosling and Gardner extending the sketch by a full minute with character-breaking laughter, well, you’re probably just me, as the audience went nuts for it. And I sort of did, too, even if I was responding more to the underlying premise and execution than the in-jokey laughter. (Tossing in a King of the Hill lineup as the show’s next guests was a decent ending, too.)

The Worst: Ryan Gosling, Marcello Hernandez and Kenan all put on Latin accents and called the original dog from Beethoven in the restaurant sketch. It’s not terrible, just very unfocused. While Kenan’s fondness for his Dominican accent is well-established, it was a relief to have Gosling’s dude explain away his dodgy one by explaining that he has a Cuban (sorry, “Coo-an”) wife, and having him demonstrate how he used to say things like “Hot dog” and “Patagonia” in his original, white guy voice. Marcello gooses things up with customary energy, and their attempts to get the reluctant Kenan to go clubbing do include some odd enticements, like promised appearances from the Bar Rescue guy and the aforementioned canine actor (who eventually appears, dragging a helpless Sarah Sherman offstage). I did laugh at Kenan’s objection to Gosling’s claim to be having a phone call with Beethoven amounted to, “I know that he did not say, ‘I love you’ first.” In the end, though is the joke about Gosling’s appropriation? Three doofuses? Big dog? Slight and rudderless, it was fine.

The Rest: You had to go to the lone filmed piece tonight for a little comic discipline, and the country song, “Get That Boy Back” delivers with style. Chloe Fineman, Ego Nwodim, and Chloe Troast are the honky-tonk ladies, singing an inspiring anthem about how they’re going to get back at their faithless exes (mostly truck-related violence), until Troast launches into her own plans. They’re as brilliant as they are bananas, as musical guest Chris Stapleton is seen as her ex, discovering that his shoes are too big (Troast sneaks in to replace them with a half-size bigger, but only every other week) and scaring the crap out of his elderly mom by camouflaging herself like wallpaper and whispering weird stuff in the night. And then she’s Stapleton’s heavily disguised new girlfriend, who interrupts their six-month courtship by suddenly speaking only Romanian, all of which is a prank too far for her singing partners. Everyone can sing their butts off (Stapleton naturally, but Troast especially), and Ryan Gosling pops in for a verse as Troast’s ex-CIA brother masterminding her vengeance. SNL music video sketches are almost always tremendous. This was tremendous.

When did I start getting less amused and more annoyed by Gosling’s giggle-fits? I think it was as early as the third sketch, a promising conceit with a good role for Andrew Dismukes that Gosling’s church pew-titters threatened to scuttle. With Gosling’s seemingly blissful groom-to-be confiding in virtual stranger Dismukes that he plans to flee his engagement (and eventually the country) every time their partners (Fineman and Ego) leave the room, it’s a chance for a truly inspired two-hander. (The women’s roles barely exist, sadly.) Social awkwardness writ in huge, exaggerated letters, Gosling’s desperate, raspy whispers paint a picture of comically oversized cold feet, while Dismukes is excellent as the unfortunate acquaintance fending off Gosling’s attempts to rope him into his elaborate escape plan. (“I am not part of this.” “You are the main part of this!”) And Gosling seems just right for the role until the laughs come spilling out, his seemingly normal dude revealing schemes involving everything from a Groupon for facial reconstruction to Dismukes meeting him in Istambul with a briefcase full of cash all humming with one-upping absurdity. Here’s the thing about breaking during a sketch on Saturday Night Live. Sometimes it makes you want to join in with the helpless performers who are clearly so struck by the lines and/or situation, and sometimes you want to grab them by the lapels and shake. (Ever looking at you, Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz.) Gosling keeps getting invited back, so presumably the show is prepared for his constitutional inability to hold it together. And, hey, he’s pretty adorable doing it, and not every show has to be lockstep perfect in discipline and execution. That’s the unique joy of live TV comedy. Still, when a promising sketch falls victim to an outbreak of breaking, it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated. (The end, where the departing Gosling leans in and plants a gentle kiss on Dismukes’ head, proclaiming, “Farewell, Brad, you’re my best friend,” is a great capper to the sketch that almost was.)

By the time the hospital sketch took its second-to-last spot, I was essentially over the whole “host can’t stop laughing” spell. The sketch as written was a showcase for another of Bowen Yang’s archly weird and funny characterizations, here a designer-clad surgeon whose self-exonerating attempts to explain why a gathered family’s relative has died is not his fault gradually cede to his long-gestating pitch for a new dessert idea. Drolly from another realm where appropriateness is not valued, this weirdo sees Yang partaking of some Kids in the Hall-derived dark comedy (those guys loved to puncture solemnity with outrageous grossness), which should have stepped up a notch when Yang’s colleague emerges, covered in blood and equally obsessed with the market promise of “Cookie Crumbles.” (Crumbled up cookies in a handy, labeled ziplock bag that you must eat with a tiny red spoon.) But Gosling, kitted out in bloodstained smock and peekaboo blond wig, is—and you’ll never believe it—unable to hold it together. The sketch wasn’t headed for greatness, I suspect (the family is left playing it too straight and explanatory, in the vaunted SNL fashion), but I’m all for this season’s reliance on strange-o humor and relative avoidance of repeaters. When Yang drops an acid, “We’re not taking any pitches,” to one character’s bafflement over his product’s wordy name, it hints at what the writers were going for. He didn’t have anything funny to do, but I kept looking at James Austin Johnson truly committing to his grieving patriarch character as usual and thinking that not everybody involved backstage was likely as delighted by the host’s breakdowns as the audience seemed to be.

Weekend Update update

Not to say I told you so, but Michael Che thinks he can have it both ways when it comes to comically putting down women. Che can play his “I’m only joking… or am I?” card so many times before somebody calls him out on it. (And many have, myself included.) And if NCAA women’s basketball superstar Caitlin Clark is going to be the latest to do it, then at least she’s got a high enough profile to posterize him on live national TV. After a particularly Michael-Che-but-more-so joke about Clark’s Iowa retiring the WNBA-bound point guard’s apron, Clark herself emerged, to the sort of extended whoops that no doubt trashed the episode’s already destroyed timing. I like Che. He’s a funny guy with some original concepts and thoughtful insights. He’s also plied a line of hacky misogyny that he counts on people thinking “That’s just Che being Che” to excuse. As part of Clark’s takedown of Che here, Colin Jost throws to a mini-montage of Che’s WNBA-themed jokes for illustration, but that barely touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Che’s fondness for button-pushing, “Women, amirite?” one-liners. There’a a stable of guy stand-ups whose “I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking” bluntness unsuccessfully masks some ugly, tiresome prejudices, and, sadly, Che’s one of them. So watching him seemingly squirm while the most popular women’s athlete of the moment makes him tell anti-Che jokes (Che has VD, Che’s not funny) is meant as comeuppance. But like the popular joke swaps between Che and Jost, the “kidding on the square” putdowns aren’t so much correctively satirical as elbow-in-the-ribs palling around. Does Caitlin Clark (here doing about as well as most athletes on SNL) harbor actual irritation at Michael Che’s constant jokes about women’s sports? I imagine so, even if the carefully rehearsed drop-by here feels less pointed than it might. Regardless, it gave Clark the chance to list off some of the women’s basketball greats in Michael Che’s house, which at least had to feel good.

Update itself was snappy goodness. The burning issues of the day got a quick jab or two. Arizona’s horsecrap 1864 abortion ban got taken out behind the woodshed, with Jost mocking that era-specific medicine only had prayer or cocaine in its doctor’s bag, and that women’s only chance to get rid of unwanted pregnancy was for Rumpelstiltskin to get involved. Che went for his beloved audience gasps by blaming O.J. Simpson’s recent death on the LAPD planting cancer on him. They’re funny guys and this role suits them so well that it seems they’ll never leave, leaving me wishing Update would be more ambitious for another season.

Oh, and Che appeared to be ramping up to a solid joke about the inherent absurdity of Trump’s claim that states have the right to limit abortion (Che takes it smaller and smaller until it seems that individual choice is the end result)—only to swerve into a joke that it’s the husbands who really know what’s best for the women. We get it Che—you’re a li’l stinker and nobody should take your misogyny seriously. Except those who think it’s hilarious. Then Che would like you to take it seriously.

Michael Longfellow finds a new label as “America’s boyfriend” in his correspondent piece, here addressing an apparent TikTok trend of women blaming men for “weaponized incompetence” regarding stuff they just don’t want to do. (Again, this is already the stuff of hacky “my wife” jokes immemorial, but you young folks do you.) Longfellow’s languished alongside some of his featured player colleagues, so a me-forward Update piece is a time-honored remedy. And this isn’t bad—Longfellow’s brand of deadpan put-on smugness is reliably funny when he’s being himself. The writing could be tighter (all night, there were missed cues, sound issues, and pacing problems), but what the appearance lacked in hard laughs, it made up for in Michael Longfellow getting much-needed airtime. Repurposing a chunk of your stand-up into a funny few Update minutes will get that for you as an SNL performer, but time’s running out to truly make a mark in sketches.

Political Comedy Report

When the opening flashed the Pentagon, I thought momentarily that the show was going to steer into the increasingly contentious waters of the Israel-Gaza conflict. Or the irrefutable fact that a whole lot of Republican elected officials are openly siding with Russia over the country they swore to serve. A last-second rewrite mentioning the near-miss, region-escalating Iran drone strikes on Israel would have been a miraculous turnaround, since it was happening while the show was prepping for air, but, hey, what’s live TV for? Then I saw Kate and Gosling and I figured correctly that this was not going to be one of those nights when the show even set aside a lukewarm five minutes for politics. Fair enough.

Not Ready for Prime Time Power Rankings

Ryan Gosling, as a literal afterthought during the goodnights, appended a hasty, “and the cast!” to his list of thank yous. That about sums up the pickings for the cast tonight. Some people certainly got more airtime (Fineman, Day, Ego, Heidi, Kenan naturally) than others (Molly, Devon, Punkie naturally) even if their roles weren’t all that memorable. On the plus side, Dismukes continues to pop anytime he gets the chance. And Chloe Troast is always a treat when she gets to sing. Basically though, everyone played second fiddle to a visiting Kate McKinnon and the host’s inability to keep a straight face. It’s really all that people are going to remember.

Recurring Sketch Report

Colleen Rafferty, indefatigable dumpster queen of the spaceways, was, in her first appearance, a genuine phenomenon. The premise of Kate McKinnon’s seen-it-all lady presenting her deeply low-rent version of her companions’ transcendent close encounter of the third kind with chain-smoking resignation cracked up that night’s host, Ryan Gosling, and pretty much anybody with a detectable pulse. It was a no-brainer for SNL to bring Colleen back, and, SNL being SNL, boy did they. The juice of the sketch is always McKinnon’s heavy-lidded, fearlessly gross efforts to pump up the gag with her talents for delivering euphemism for her lady parts, and, being Kate, it mainly worked. McKinnon works like a bellows, deadpan huffing the sketch alight despite its creaky history, and gleefully paddling, stroking, sniffing, and self-teabagging the giggling Gosling’s junk with aplomb. With Gosling back in the house, the show turning the cold open over to Colleen once more took me by surprise, in spite of myself. Dipping into the greatest hits is certainly not a shocker, but bringing in Kate (especially reprising the character she used as sort of her sendoff) to crack Gosling up once more didn’t exactly betray a huge amount of confidence in the people who actually work at Saturday Night Live.

For the first 20 minutes of tonight’s show, the current cast appeared only as straight-person support. (Bowen, Mikey, and Sarah, then Molly and Mikey again in the monologue.) Meanwhile, in addition to Kate, Gosling’s Fall Guy costar Emily Blunt made a sizeble (and definitely impressive) appearance in the monologue. As with Kristen Wiig’s, star-jammed episode last week, the ringer-heavy sidelining of the cast continues to suggest that the powers that be are preparing to clean house this summer. I’m torn on that. This cast chugs along without anyone exhibiting much ability or inclination to be a star. But they’ve gotten the shaft when it comes to some big opportunities, Lorne’s contact list too often taking the plum parts. This is all to say, that it’s nice to see Kate, Gosling’s giggle-puss act is adorable until it isn’t, and this sketch’s show-opening slot hints that the reaminder of Season 49 is going to be all about crowd-pleasing rather than prepping a middling cast for big breaks that just aren’t coming.

Apart from all that, the cold open was a home run hit off a tee, with Kate whipping out even more cheap-laugh nicknames for her vagina and anus (“juicer and deucer,” “grumpy and dumpy,” “weenhole and beanhole”), with Gosling’s much luckier abductee enduring Colleen’s intimate demonstrations with customary red-faced laughter. The crowd ate this sort of stuff up with a spoon all night, and if that made tonight’s episode something of an, “Aw, screw it,” then at least it was an entertaining one.

10-to-One Report

It’s been a long while since I saw Erin Brockovich, so I’m just going to take this final sketch’s word that there’s a flirty showdown between Julia Roberts and Aaron Eckhart that hinged on a particularly overwritten rhetorical construction. I’m guessing someone in the writers room either caught the 2000 legal drama streaming or has been pitching this slight but silly idea for a while. Anyway, Chloe Fineman is a great impressionist, and her Roberts isn’t almost there. And the mustachioed Gosling (no points for guessing he has humorous trouble with the fake facial hair)—say it with me—gets the giggles throughout. I do like a sketch based on a tiny detail that only one person finds sketch-worthy, don’t get me wrong. Here, in response to Gosling asking for her number, Fineman’s Erin huffily exclaims, “Number? Which number do you want, George..?” before running down all the many hardships in her life (two kids, two divorces, etc). It’s a thinker of a premise that requires some rat-a-tat timing and commitment, as Kenan, old pro that Kenan is, demonstrates when his beleaguered neighbor shows up to complain about the noisy banter. But Ryan gonna Ryan, and so, even before his handlebar mustache comes loose, he’s all a-giggle again. I’m legally prohibited from using the word “giggle” again in this review, so I’ll just suggest that breaking is a seasoning, not a main course.

Parting Shots

I dunno, maybe I was less hard on all the unprofessionalism because, as the show went on and I kept the news in the corner of my eye, it appeared that World War III wasn’t actually going to start during the show. Not this episode anyway.

Credit where it’s due, Gosling’s abductee responds to a scientist’s claim that he’s never heard of male genitalia being referred to as a “troll-nose” with an ably deadpan, “You must be hanging out at a different bowling alley than we do, sir.”

Jost explains that Donald Trump’s ludicrous claim that babies are being executed after birth in abortion clinics is because, “when he was a baby, a bunch of time travelers showed up and tried to kill him.”

We’re all taking some time off to collect ourselves, so meet you all back here on May 4 for a Dua Lipa double-feature as host/musical guest.

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