Ryan Gosling Presides Over a Funny, Break-Filled SNL

This week’s Saturday Night Live made several strong impressions:

Ryan Gosling is a natural as host. Ryan Gosling breaks a lot in sketches. Ryan Gosling makes other cast members break a lot.

Also: Beavis and Butthead can’t miss.

All that and a cameo from Caitlin Clark.

This was a funny show. It was a silly, slapsticky, sight-gaggy, bawdy, big-laugh show, and Gosling was in the middle of most of it.

He arrived with expectations, of course. His “Ken” lifted his movie career to an impressive new level, because of his willingness to embrace and embody the iconic vapid essence of that character—er, doll. That had to be addressed last night of course, and was, in one of the more elaborate, prop and costume-heavy monologue segments of recent vintage.

But Gosling also resurrected his “Todd” character in a callback to one of the more consistently funny recurring sketches of the past decade: “Close Encounter,” always a showcase for the dynamic Kate McKinnon as Ms. Rafferty. This time she returned to the show to share the scatological center of that piece with Gosling, all to the squealing delight of the studio audience.

That it was chosen as the cold open was still a surprise, because hosts rarely are central characters in the cold opens. Maybe the piece was just too strong to deny; or maybe there was some other reason.

But no matter. Gosling and McKinnon scored bigly, all but chewing the scenery, the stage, the lights, the building down to the ground in recreating for inquisitors from the Pentagon the interest of alien abductors in Todd’s physical equipment, which is lacking in the aliens themselves. Or as Gosling as Todd put it, “They’re like a broken doorbell: You know: no dong.”

And if anyone missed the point of that howler (unlikely), they surely got it when Ms. Rafferty crawled between Todd’s legs to demonstrate the aliens’ curiosity and fascination with “Todd’s junk,” which included various experiments, including how, as Ms. Rafferty put it, one guy was “trying to wear it like a hat.”

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This is what used to be known as “low humor,” which was especially apt here because McKinnon was crawling around on the ground as she elucidated her points. But even Shakespeare knew a smattering of good, old-fashioned, shameless prurience is can’t-miss comedy. In McKinnon’s hands (and on her head) this delivered shrieking laughs, which unquestionably Bill S himself would have welcomed as a comedy writer.

The bit also contained the first of the many break moments for Gosling et al in the show.

The Ken-centric monologue included his fur coat from the Barbie movie, a parody of Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” and, amid a Barbenheimer duet, the next of the night’s cameos (after McKinnon’s) from Emily Blunt. This worked as a triple-headed movie promo, for Gosling’s Barbie, Blunt’s Oppenheimer and their mutual Fall Guy.

And when a real promo for Fall Guy followed immediately, it looked like a continuation of the gag.

Some of this edition’s sketch ideas had inspired premises, starting with Gosling as a fiancé recruiting a new male acquaintance to help him take back the proposal he had just recently bestowed on his over-the-moon girlfriend (Chloe Fineman, very busy in this show—she even starred in an SNL-produced T-Mobile commercial).

Hard to imagine how any writer came up with another premise—about three guys with Spanish accents discussing partying the “original dog from Beethoven. ”

The best of the sketches, certainly by the measure of loss of control by cast members, was an academic discussion on News Nation of the “miracle or menace” of AI. The heavy conversation was distracted by two audience members, who, unbeknownst to themselves, looked exactly likes Beavis and Butthead. Gosling got through his first lines as Beavis, but Heidi Gardner as the show’s host totally lost the thread once she got a look at Butthead (Mikey Day, I think—the makeup was fantastic) and from there all the cast members—not-counting Keenan Thompson and all the professionally stone-faced extras–had trouble getting out the rest of the dialogue. A totally silly, but seriously funny sketch.

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Weekend Update was a bit lighter than usual on the edgy jokes, thought it had some good ones. I liked two from Michael Che: one about OJ dying of prostate cancer “which was planted on him by the LAPD,” and a report that to match the Japanese offering to help the US with the new technology of high-speed trains, the US was going to help Japan with the new technology of “forks.”

The segment introduced a new character, “resident boyfriend” Michael Longfellow doing a nice job as a “weaponized incompetent”; but it really rocked the house with the surprise appearance of basketball star Caitlin Clark, who responded to Che’s weeks of mocking women’s sports (this time, he suggested that Iowa would replace her retired jersey with an apron) by making him read a series of jokes-on-him.

Caitlin is better at hitting on three-pointers from long range, but still handled the ball OK at the Update desk.

She did smile a lot, but didn’t break mid-performance. So, good for her.

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Sometimes performers breaking and laughing feels forced. On this show, it seemed more earned. Somebody looking that much like Butthead could do that to anyone.

The show is off until May 4, when Dua Lipa will double as host and musical act.

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