No, Ryan Gosling doesn’t have a meth detour in this episode of “Saturday Night Live,” but in terms of coming back strong, you could probably do a better job than get someone who can’t make it through a sketch without breaking. Yes, this is one of those episodes. Specifically, a first-day-of-school type episode where — all of a sudden — the class hottie decides he’s going to be the class clown. He’s not particularly good at the transition, but you want him to like you, so you laugh at his jokes. As he also laughs at his jokes. It’s not like they’re offensive or anything, they’re just… Well, you’ve read better jokes on a popsicle stick. And some of his jokes are just misremembered jokes from those same popsicle sticks.
This is all still just the first day of school.
Simply put: The “Saturday Night Live” Season 43 premiere makes it seem like it’s going to be a long year.
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Host: Ryan Gosling
Despite Ryan Gosling hosting to promote “Blade Runner 2049,” his opening monologue is dedicated to (presumably) putting a nail in the coffin of ‘La La Land’ chat, taking on the “Ryan Gosling saves jazz” criticism of the film and playing it off as genuine praise and accomplishment. In an episode full of Ryan Gosling poorly not playing instruments and Ryan Gosling giggling through sketches, this monologue is the best of both aspects. Especially when he pronounces New Orleans the correct way: “NERLENS.” Surprisingly, there’s no mention of all the press surrounding the movie about how Ryan Gosling learned to play the piano for “La La Land”… despite previously knowing how to do it in his band.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, the rest of the episode is just that: Ryan Gosling going full Jimmy Fallon during sketches, for no truly understandable reason other than that’s what’s expected of him. But is it really expected of him?
Back when Gosling first hosted in Season 41, we were gifted with the alien abduction sketch (part of a series of similar-premised sketches) where he completely lost it, to the point of tears and noticeable convulsions when he was offscreen. And he wasn’t the only one, as Gosling’s laughter — even when the camera was off him — was so unmistakable that the rest of the cast couldn’t hold it in. So what’s one way to take something special and make it less so? The sequel to said alien abduction sketch answered that question, as it appears to both want Ryan Gosling to break again (despite Lorne Michaels’ disdain for that) and also try not to get it on camera. Note the way the camera doesn’t go to reaction shots of Gosling whenever Kate McKinnon says anything or how the sketch doesn’t even try to call attention to him at all… until it gets to the butt stuff, which is clearly designed to get him to break. “Saturday Night Live” even puts Gosling right next to Kate this time, instead of having Cecily Strong as the middle seat buffer.
Everyone remembers the original Debbie Downer sketch for the way things just completely went south, but no one remembers how every subsequent versions of the sketch failed to replicate that, even with the same basic premise. The Ben Affleck episode aired with a live version where no one broke, only for reruns to air the dress rehearsal version instead, with constant crack-ups. This is such a glaring attempt at a recreation — with even more obvious production — that while it’s perfect for round-ups of “that adorable thing Ryan Gosling did,” it’s not exactly good.
And that, unfortunately, defines this hosting attempt for Ryan Gosling in most of the episode.
Best Sketch of The Night: “Papyrus”
Ryan Gosling is a talented actor, but this ‘Saturday Night Live’ appearance calls into question just how talented of a sketch comedy performer he is. Yes, he may have originally learned some skills from his days back on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” but like with many things, if you don’t use it, you lose it. But it’s no surprise his best work is in Papyrus, the pre-taped digital short that brings up a very valid point: James Cameron used the papyrus font for ‘Avatar,’ and we all kind of collectively just let it happen. Credit to “Saturday Night Live” writer Julio Torres for bringing the madness of such a decision to the mainstream in the first place. Especially the moment where Gosling’s character learns that there will be sequels, yet the font remains the same. “Saturday Night Live” can, of course, be very broad, but sometimes you get sketches for thrillers about very specific font pet peeves, and then you instantly know the type of person who the sketch is for (because they list it as the sketch of the night).
By the way, of Gosling’s three best sketches this episode, two of them are digital shorts (more on Woke Jeans in just a bit) and the third one (The Fliplets) relies more on him actually, well, acting than proving himself comedically brilliant. There’s also the Henrietta & The Fugitive sketch, which some people say is still going on, to this day. Is it good? Is it bad? Does anyone actually have an answer to this question?
Worst Sketch of The Night: Dive Bar
The greatest trick Ryan Gosling ever pulled was trying to make us think everything on ‘Saturday Night Live’ was too funny to function. That’s not to say it’s impossible for ‘Saturday Night Live’ to be non-stop too funny to function, but it certainly might be impossible to say that about any version of this Kenan Thompson sketch. Sorry, Kenan.
Most “It Can Be Two Things” Sketch: Woke Jeans
First things first: Levi’s Woke Jeans is not mocking social justice or activism. At least, that’s not its purpose. There’s a little mocking, but it’s not in the way that every other comedy now requires an episode where millennials are called out for being snowflakes. Instead, the sketch is specifically calling out the corporations that become so performative in their “wokeness” to show that they totally get something, when they couldn’t possibly even begin to. Though, there’s the other side of that spectrum where you just very clearly don’t even understand what woke is. So the key is not to look at the cast members as mocked representatives of different liberal talking points; instead look at them as mocked representatives of a corporation that has no idea what it’s doing.
The problem is… um… well… “Saturday Night Live” has famously facilitated being obtuse (at best) when it comes to these types of problems, then noticing that the world of pop culture isn’t exactly an echo chamber. See: Letting Donald Trump host, despite protests, then becoming his biggest critic post-election win. “Saturday Night Live” isn’t some underground machine; it’s a cog in a television network machine. We’ve all seen “30 Rock,” we know what this is. Surely, whoever wrote this sketch wasn’t coming at it with the perspective of, “Are we hypocrites?” Because if that were the litmus test for “Saturday Night Live” sketches in any era, there would be a lot less “Saturday Night Live” sketches. The point of the sketch isn’t to insult people who care about things — and it even says early on how Levi’s learned about issues so now it cares, not these “people” in the commercial — but it’s easy to see how it can come across like that.
It should really be so much easier to enjoy Ryan Gosling doing what appears to be an impression of Canadian rapper Snow.
Best First Impression: Chris Redd
Typically this is the Best Impression category, but after returning with a very long cold open and a diminishing returns Donald Trump impression, that’s enough to scrap it. At least for this week. You might (or might not have, honestly) have noticed that there are three new cast members this season, Chris Redd, Luke Null, and Heidi Gardner. You might also already be familiar with Redd if you were one of the 20 people who saw “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” (Like anthropomorphic M&Ms, we do exist.) He was a highlight in that film and in most everything he’s done, but as is “Saturday Night Live’s” way, that’s no guarantee things will work out on a weekly basis. Based on this premiere, though: So far, good. Both for his bit in the Woke Jeans commercial and his role as Mark in the Italian restaurant sketch.
As for the other two newbies, Gardner will have to get past the hurdle of her initial impression, as “a blonde.” She’s in few sketches this episode, including the Italian restaurant one and Papyrus, but she doesn’t make an impression in any of them. (She’s literally given nothing to make more of an impression, though.) As for Hull, he will have to actually show up in sketches in order for there to be a proper assessment. Call it the Rudnitsky Principle.
Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong
As usual, Kate McKinnon is everywhere in this episode. But, with the exception of her character in Woke Jeans (which deserves its own spin-off ), it’s all the same. The alien abduction. Forrest Gump-esque Jeff Sessions, which is far more egregious than Woke Jeans. Angela Merkel. Cecily Strong, on the other hand, works pretty well as one of the only cast members who has absolutely no time for Gosling’s giggling schtick, as she attempts to anchor the alien abduction sketch and especially the Italian restaurant sketch. Her brief turn as Gosling’s worried wife in “Papyrus” is her reward for this episode.
Best Male Performer: Michael Che
No, Michael Che isn’t exactly the MVP of this premiere. But he is the only one who appears to have woken up (not to be confused with “woke”) to even start the new season. It should probably be more frustrating that it’s a genuine surprise anyone on “Saturday Night Live” can give any type of biting criticism when it comes to the current political administration (and specifically the president of the United States), but that’s the world in which we live.
This designation also falls into the “two things” category, as the contrast between this (things like Che calling Trump a “cheap cracker”) and every time Update cuts to Colin Jost (his blind and China jokes are both momentum halters) is jarring.
Best Cameo: Emma Stone
It’s really an award by default, but it does call to attention that this ‘Saturday Night Live’ premiere doesn’t go out of its way to seem special. There is only one celebrity cameo (Baldwin is basically a cast member), and despite the fact Emma Stone hosted last season, her quick appearance kind of makes you wish she were the hosting this episode instead.
Is it really fair to call this the start to a new season of “Saturday Night Live”? It’s the premiere, so the answer to that question is technically yes. But this episode neither gives a sense of the direction of this season — remember how weird Season 42 was? — nor does it give a true sense of what everyone’s roles will be moving forward. Nothing about this episode screams — or even whispers — “welcome back.” This isn’t a hit-the-ground-running sort of episode, which is evident the very first moment the cold open awkwardly tries to find any humor in the current Trump/Puerto Rico situation (later found in Michael Che’s Weekend Update). Even the Jay-Z performances, while technically good, all just feel like another moving piece in a disjointed, low energy episode.