SNL: Leon Bridges, Ryan Gosling, Taran Killam

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2015.

Ryan Gosling is not exactly known for comedy, but lack of an established funny bone has not stopped other folks from becoming iconic “SNL” hosts. Gosling is an affable enough fellow, so it is not surprising that he might want to garner some yuks, but his trademark of soulfully staring off into the distance is not a great fit for a show that usually requires going big. Thus, he appears out of his element throughout this episode, with multiple flubs and bits of cracking up. But that only makes him even more charming. As for the show itself, it is a little more out-there than usual.

A Christmas Message from Donald and Melania Trump – The greetings to America from this bizarrely potential First Couple are a reliable enough recurring cold opening for as long the Donald’s campaign lasts. Taran Killam improves his impression by underplaying, since his the guy he’s playing is already ridiculous enough. But the real star here is Cecily Strong as his wife, whose ditzy rhetorical questions somehow make her sound sensible, at least when sitting next to the guy she’s with. C+

Ryan Gosling’s Monologue – After Ryan Gosling halfheartedly pretends to be a native New Yorker (with an accent apparently inspired by former Yankee Phil Rizzuto pitching low-interest rates), fellow Canuck Mike Myers joins him to sing about the joys of Canadian Christmas. The whole thing is filled with a fair amount of nonsense that is alternately remarked upon and ignored. To wit: Mike cracks that he lives backstage, even though his alumni cameos have been relatively rare; also, Ryan complains that the song was written by an American but then basically just continues on with it anyway. There is a potentially much more tension-filled version of this monologue, but the one that exists is at least slightly weirder than the typical song-and-dance variety. B-

Settl – The concept of settling when applied to real-life marriages can be annoyingly overblown, but when used to satirize modern dating trends, it makes sense. Not every user of Tinder or the like is using it for its most stereotypical purposes. This commercial understands that if a dating app were used only in the most stereotypical way, it would be pretty funny, which it is here, with wedding-obsessed ladies desperate enough to be constricted to the most pathetically still-available guys. B

NSA Alien Abduction Meeting – A night of breaking for Ryan Gosling kicks off in this sketch, in which tales of a spaceship visit give just about everyone the giggles. Cecily Strong, however, wins the Will Forte Award for maintaining her composure. This is an example of a classic comedy formula for success: juxtaposition of two things that already exist. Apocryphal tales of alien abduction often involve either spiritual enlightenment or physical invasiveness, but never both. This sketch posits that discrepancy is due to the absence of the “top brass” at the probing sessions. Kate McKinnon wisely underplays as the most unfortunate of the abductees, letting all the distressing details speak for themselves. B

Santa Baby (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – “Adults who believe in Santa” is not an especially unique joke, but this short film takes that premise to another level by making the Christmas-loving couple (Gosling, Vanessa Bayer) truly psychotic. All the other guests could have just been uncomfortably uncertain about whether or not to reveal the truth; instead, they are held hostage by disturbing, yet mesmerizing behavior worthy of a David Lynch film. All the distressing close-ups make for quite the directorial triumph as well. The real Santa apparently arriving at the end does seem to undercut the message a bit, though. B+

Birthday Party – Aidy Bryant returns with her boundary-less teenager Melanie, last seen ogling a dorky-chic Drake, but this time, Ryan Gosling can’t quite seem to get her name right. While Aidy gives it her all as usual, that all may be a bit too much, as Melanie comes off as aggressively unpleasant, not just inappropriate but profoundly inconsiderate, with her unhygienic ways leading to a ringworm infestation. She has a lot of wild details that are worth a few laughs, but since everyone else dislikes her as much as would be expected, the whole scene has a feeling of “When will she stop?!” C

Leon Bridges – “Smooth Sailin’” – Leon Bridges’ brand of soul revivalism is straightforward, but effective. Just look at the title of his first song. The fact that the object of his affection is not just sweet, not just honey, and not just darling, but “sweet honey darling” ensures that he will be endearing. B

Weekend Update – Michael and Colin take a break from focusing their barbs on the Republican candidates to take President Obama to task on downplaying the ISIS threats. While they sound reasonable, their best punchlines remain the wackiest, which are in decent supply here. There’s Ben Carson disappointed he didn’t meet Michael in Jordan, an exterminator defunding Planned Parenthood, and of course, the so bald-faced in its offensiveness that it becomes transcendent “female brain always be shopping!” Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Jill Davenport – Cecily Strong’s latest takedown of a female stereotype is well-realized as a character, but it could use a stronger concept to go along with it. As it is, it is an odd diss on Glamour, although perhaps it is meant to represent any fashion magazine. Ultimately, it is tricky to play a blatantly obvious flirter, because the comedic choices tend to be just as obvious. C+
Weekend Update: Secondhand News – There is an odd habit among Update characters to bring on a guest as a companion version. As “Thirdhand News” guy Angelo, Ryan Gosling offers just about nothing that Bobby Moynihan has not already perfected. His shirt and ties are slightly different shades, and he is perhaps even dopier (he asks Colin if he goes to the “bad tie store” after Anthony rags on him for his “million-dollar smile” and “$2 tie”). Still, their high-pitched harmonizing has a ring to it. B

Ryan Gosling Interview – Some people are suckers for alliterative nicknames that are more silly than insulting, so Kyle Mooney deserves some kudos for throwing out epithets like Tammy Typewriter, Sally Songstress, and Nancy Newspaper. Beyond that, this sketch features Mooney’s typical blend of pathos, unexplainable confidence, and bizarre character tics (he sounds like he is doing an impression of Roger from “American Dad!”). The rest of the sketch cannot quite match his sensibility, though, with Ryan Gosling as himself uncertain how to fake embarrassment when asked to perform only in ways that make him look good. B-

George Clooney and Danny Devito for Nespresso – Bobby Moynihan whips out his Devito impression for the second episode in a row, this time to basically recreate the most inexplicable commercial in recent memory. It is basically a shot-for-shot remake, with Devito providing running commentary to give a voice to every man, woman, and child who has been devastated by the confusion caused by this ad. The original’s absurdity appears to be intentional, so this parody is basically a public service announcement alerting anyone who may have missed it to its existence. B

The Wiz! Live Cut Scene – Just as NBC is making a live musical adaptation a December tradition, so is “SNL” making a parody of those shows its own tradition. With Ryan Gosling as the Scarecrow in the style of the original “Wizard of Oz” who stumbles onto the Wiz side of town, this is one of those “black people are like this, white people are like this” sketches, which can be hacky, but have typically been solid for “SNL” lately. Unfortunately, it is never really clear what racial differences are actually being targeted, perhaps because the heavy costumes and makeup make it so that none of the characters seem like stereotypical versions of anything. C

Leon Bridges – “River” – For his second number, Leon slows it down and makes it abundantly clear that he has a versatile voice that he is mightily in control of. B

Santa and the Magical Elves – A sketch that already made its point (elves are rather kinky) in its first iteration in last season’s Louis C.K. episode makes that point over and over again, without really saying anything else. At least some of the euphemisms are imaginatively vivid. C

Notes & Quotes:
-Cecily comes up with a nice save (“He’s crying”) while Ryan cracks up in the Alien Abduction sketch, but nobody responds to him constantly calling Aidy Bryant the wrong name in the Birthday Party sketch, which makes for a really weird moment.
-Ryan Gosling with curly hair looks a lot like Kyle Mooney.
-Though it may be hard to realize it when Donald Trump says it, “hilarious, with boobs” is a pretty good combination.
-“I was full Porky Pigging it in a drafty dome.”
-“There is no way Isis Cosby is white.”
-“Hey, Luke, use the force, mon!”