Though usually reserved for weird throwaway ideas, the last half-hour of the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, starring Ryan Gosling and Jay-Z, was actually its funniest. Here's everything that happened.
The Cold Open
A spare retelling of the past week of White House news set in the Oval Office, primarily led by Aidy Bryant as Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, who, after hanging up on San Juan mayor Carmen Cruz (played by Melissa Villaseñor) admits he's simply an agent of chaos. Even with Kate McKinnon appearing as Jeff Sessions and Alex Moffatt showing up as Chuck Schumer, this didn't really hit as hard as it could have.
A surprising riff on La La Land in which Ryan Gosling amusingly plays up a delusion that, based on his role in the film, he "saved jazz." The relentlessness of the joke was in itself a good joke, and a last-minute cameo by Emma Stone was a nice touch. Still happy Moonlight won though.
Alien Abduction Interviews
Kate McKinnon's Miss Rafferty returns to face government interrogators about an alien encounter. While characters played by Cecily Strong and Gosling answer the unusual questions normally, Rafferty just talks about how the experience exposed her highly euphemismed genitals. That's the whole joke, although this edition featured some bold physical comedy/ass play between McKinnon and Gosling. Not sure why this recurs but, based on his lengthy corpsing, maybe Gosling requested it.
A sort of funny mockery of both self-righteousness and corporate attempts to capitalize on youth consciousness, SNL has done this better in recent seasons. This came across as more of a prop gag featuring silly pants.
A shot at HGTV home-reno shows hosted by siblings, but with a twist. Beyond the conventional odd couple brothers, Gosling plays an estranged third brother who is scarred by his parents' divorce and has gone very dark. Gosling was good in this.
The king of New York brought Damien 'Jr. Gong' Marley out onto a camouflage stage for a spirited "Bam." Beyond the song's energy, Hov made a statement wearing a football jersey with "Colin K" emblazoned on the back, shouting out Colin Kaepernick for igniting an American dialogue about racism and police brutality. When Jay-Z returned for his second song, the stage was bare of almost anything but a mic on a stand and some large spotlights behind him. The sparse production was meant to intensify "4:44," with its repeated apologies (to Beyoncé and his family) and it did, but with Jay pausing so much between verses during the sample-driven backing track, it also felt somewhat anticlimactic.
Colin Jost and Michael Che delivered some good Trump digs, particularly about his horrible response to the Puerto Rico crisis, which prompted Michael Che to call the president both a "bitch" and "a cheap cracker." The gloves are clearly off now.
Other than a killer joke about White Fudge Ding Dongs, the only other highlight was an Alex Moffatt desk piece where he plays an obnoxious yuppie d-bag who's overcompensating at life because he's bad at sex. Gosling joined in here, which was funny.
Henrietta & the Fugitive
This surreal but generally humourless noir-ish sketch called back to the late '80s, Phil Hartman-era of SNL, where some throwback overacting put a strange idea across. Again, this thing, anchored by Gosling and Aidy Bryant playing an amorous hen, was really only notable because Gosling, again, couldn't make it through another sketch without cracking up. He's in Fallon territory for this by now.
This was an inspired idea about a couple who are fooled into thinking they're eating fine Italian cuisine but it's actually a ruse; they're actually eating pasta made by Pizza Hut. The comic rage of Cecily Strong here, playing Gosling's girl, made this intensely riveting but, most importantly, super funny.
A great remote in which Gosling plays a guy who can't get over the fact that the Avatar title font was papyrus. Played like a psychological thriller, this absurd premise paid off and Gosling was great.
Takin' A Knee
Vaguely a riff on the old "What Up with That" sketch, Kenan Thompson stars as a bar/lounge singer dealing with some drama, in song. With Gosling's "rock sax" player going through a personal crisis, Thompson's singer is kinda narrating all of that while also punctuating a musical performance with this catchy, strange chorus. Just a silly, time-killing end of show sketch that felt strong enough to warrant coming back at some point.