After a summer in which many people wished Saturday Night Live could be on every weekend in order to comment on the craziness that is 2017, the show finally returned this weekend for its 43rd season. But rather than overload on topical sketches during its premiere, SNL opted to keep most Trump-related items to its cold open and "Weekend Update" segments. This isn't exactly unusual: Having multiple political sketches within the show is abnormal, and it's probably unwise to expect that the ratio the show deployed last year will be repeated this year. But it's also only the first show, one that didn't even exist in any form six days ago. Trying to extrapolate trends this early is a fool's errand.
As host, Ryan Gosling brought the same levels of "intensity" and "inability to keep a straight face in any sketch" that he did to his first outing on the show in 2015. Having people break mid-sketch so often is usually off-putting, but it did help several subpar sketches tonight: Gosling was clearly having so much fun that I felt bad I didn't share his level of enthusiasm. But I'm not here to talk about the duds. Rather, let's look at the three sketches people will be talking about until Gal Gadot hosts next week.
Ryan Gosling Jazz Monologue
Leaning into controversy, rather than shying away from it, often serves SNL hosts well. It's one of the safest and most effective ways to reestablish control over the narrative. I'm not exactly sure the country's worried about La La Land's portrayal of jazz at this point in time, but clearly Gosling heard some of the blowback and chose to use this moment to address it rather than his upcoming movie.
Gosling's ironic ownership of the claim that he single-handedly saved jazz in that film marries well with his natural intensity as an actor. The juxtaposition of his serious demeanor and his pronunciation of New Orleans ("Nerlins") works like gangbusters, and his repeated attempts to plug Blade Runner 2049 interrupted by jazz mansplaining never failed to evoke laughter from the audience. Having Harrison Ford actually there would have been great, but La La Land co-star (and multiple-time SNL host) Emma Stone appearing at the end was the cherry on top of an excellent monologue.
Another Close Encounter
I'm not a gambling man, but I do wish I could have bet on "Saturday Night Live absolutely revisiting the alien abduction sketch during this episode" and stashed away some sweet cash for my retirement. While I did expect a variation on this sketch, I didn't expect an actual sequel. What felt like a naked gimmick actually turned into a smart move, using the audience's intense familiarity with the first iteration to fuel some amazing comedic callbacks.
While usually just a vehicle for Kate McKinnon to steal the entire show, this sketch wisely gave Gosling and Cecily Strong some material as well, particularly around the timey-wimey nature of his NSA hat. But make no mistake: This was the first part of McKinnon's next Emmy reel. Ms. Rafferty might be her most popular original character at this point, and the visual of her re-enacting what the aliens did using Gosling's posterior as a stand-in is one of the funniest things the show's done this calendar year. Having Gosling face away from the camera didn't hide the fact that he was nearly in tears from laughter. This suggests that either new material was added after dress rehearsal, or like the rest of us, was unable to stop laughing at what McKinnon was doing.
This makes the cut if for no other reason than serving as the introduction to the show's 43rd season cast. It's an important milestone to see this cast have an ensemble sketch that involves nearly every cast member, especially on the heels of seeing Mikey Day slide into Bobby Moynihan's old slot on the alien abduction sketch. Change is the lifeblood of the show, and while it can be sad when favorites go, it's often exciting to see new Not Ready For Primetime Players take the stage.
On a practical level, this sketch should get lots of play online in the upcoming week since it both appeals to and is a parody of the types of demographics many websites are trying to attract. Nearly everyone in the non-"Weekend Update" cast gets a spin here, and all wear the baggy, non-conforming jeans with panache and faux progressiveness. The Leslie Jones/Pete Davidson segment ("Let's talk pockets!" "Pockets sold separately!") is a master class in both comic delivery and editing, and the Uni-Fly is yet another testament to the genius of the SNL props department. The cold open might have been more topical, and I personally found some of the later sketches funnier, but this one serves as the first "statement" from this cast. For fans of the show, that matters.