There was a lot of anticipation for this 43rd season premiere of NBC staple “Saturday Night Live,” hosted by Ryan Gosling with musical guest Jay Z. The show is riding a wave of Emmy success, including big wins for Kate McKinnon, the show and recurring player Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. With Baldwin scheduled to appear again in the premiere, and a whole summer of political material to mine, all eyes will be on Lorne Michaels' creation. While it's far less known outside of longtime “SNL” fans, with this premiere, Kenan Thompson surpasses Darrell Hammond's record as longest-running cast-member with his fifteenth season.
After finding success with the strategy during the tail end of its 42nd season, the network announced that once again “SNL” would air live from coast to coast each weekend, keeping the show as fresh and topical for the West Coast as it always has been for the East. Plus, they don't have to stay up nearly as late to see just how edgy and weird this show traditional gets in its last half hour or so.
As we did last year, we're going to rank all the sketches from worst to first, including the Cold Open and the regular “Weekend Update” segments. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny -- unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week. Also, in these early episodes, we'd like to see if the new kids are getting any screen time. “SNL” recently added Heidi Gardner, Luke Null, and Chris Redd as featured players.
What the hell was this? The black-and-white film story of a criminal who fell in love with a chicken? I mean, what? Aidy Bryant was committed to the role of the chicken, and she had so many problems with her costume, the mishaps were funnier than the sketch itself. Gosling played it straight throughout, including a short color segment set 20 years later where they planned their escape to Barcelona. Normally, we don't see nonsense like this until later in the season and as the last sketch of the night. I'll say it one more time to sum up. What?
MONOLOGUE - Ryan Gosling
The saving grace of this opening sketch where Gosling kept talking about how he saved jazz with “La La Land” was that it knew how annoying it was getting. It was about to rank very low on this list until Kenan Thompson came out and told him how lame his monologue was going. Emma Stone then followed to tell him that he didn't save jazz … they did. It kept it from being awful, but it was still pretty bad. Thankfully at that point, the monologue was over. And while it was salvaged by being aware of how stupid the jazz nonsense was, it nevertheless spent too long talking about it.
HGTV's The Fliplets
Kudos to “SNL” for pairing this live sketch with the Levi's Wokes commercial, because it was just about too long even in this shortened format. This parody of “The Property Brothers” added a third brother who'd gone to live with their dad, played by Gosling. While the two other brothers (Mikey Day and Alex Moffat) were reminiscing about a treehouse they had at 12-years old, Gosling's brother went on about a spiritual experience of darkness he had watching a man die on the streets. It wasn't funny as much as it was weird, but thankfully it ended before it really went from just odd to downright awful.
Mickey's End Zone
Kenan Thompson paired with Gosling for this bizarre recurring sketch with Thompson as a lounge singer who spends more time talking about the personal lives of his bandmates than actually singing a song. This time it was a twisted love triangle involving Gosling and the fate of Thompson's good dark jeans. It turned out Leslie Jones, in her first appearance very late in the night, had those. Gosling laughed again here again, and Jones cracked up when she couldn't tear the jeans, but again this late sketch was perhaps more odd than funny. At least it was at the end of the show where it belonged, unlike the weird chicken … whatever that was.
COLD OPEN - White House Update
“SNL” and Baldwin had a lot of ground to cover in this cold open, basically trying to cover all of the turmoil of three months in the White House in one sketch. With Aidy Bryant settling into her role as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the two quickly covered the NFL scandal, DACA, and the current Peurto Rican hurricane recovery effort before bringing Kate McKinnon out in her brilliantly creepy rat-take on Jeff Sessions. Baldwin and McKinnon were comedy gold with Sessions getting chastised for challenging Trump and going against him in recent months. McKinnon was right in that she's both adorable and terrifying. The highlight of the bit was Sessions getting scared that Trump might “Tweet” on him. “My Tweets are so powerful,” Trump said triumphantly,” “You fear the Tweets.”
Size-less, Style-neutral, gender non-conforming denim with uni-fly, from front to back. These pants are like some kind of hideous MC Hammer JNKO hybrid and it's a beautiful statement against this concept of being “woke,” or being beyond labels of any kind … including labels that might ensure your jeans fit you or look good on you. But then, wanting your clothes to look good on you is not work, right? This was a great social satire segment, and it featured both Heidi Gardner and Chris Redd … their first appearance on “SNL” they're wearing the most ridiculous pants ever conceived. Proud?
Alien Abduction w/ Ms. Rafferty
This recurring Kate McKinnon sketch allows her to get just as weird and disturbing as she can in talking about how she's crudely manhandled by aliens. It's coming to remind me of Bill Hader's Stefan with McKinnon trying to outdo the ridiculousness of her last abduction story. It was funny but feeling a bit repetitive until she started explaining what they did with her rear end by using Gosling's. It was definitely assault on him at that point, complete with her putting her face in it at one point, but Gosling was laughing almost as hard as the audience. Even after, he struggled to get it back together.
“How is the President of the United States worse at humanitarian aid than Pitbull?” After a short summer run, Colin Jost and Michael Che were back in fine form, wasting no time in offering a scathing attack against his handling of Peurto Rico. “You already did this twice for white people,” Che said after Jost attacked him for Tweeting insults to this American territory. They had some other hilarious jokes, like Balitmore's “Fatberg” harkening the return of the McRib. Guests were a mixed bag this week, as McKinnon is always a treat as Angela Merkel, this time bidding farewell to her Barack Obama memories box and chastising Trump for waiting so long to congratulate her. Alex Moffat's “Guy Who Just Bought a Boat” isn't strong enough to warrant a sidekick from Gosling, as his asides about his awful dong just follow the formula of Drunk Uncle and Putin's Best Friends from Russia. This take on the formula just isn't funny. Still the segment had plenty of genuine gut laughs.
Chris Redd has really gotten a chance to shine throughout this premiere, appearing in three separate sketches, alongside Heidi Gardner. Redd got a chance to react and respond and really showcased his potential in supporting roles. But the real winner of this video was again how seriously Ryan Gosling took the film “Avatar” to task for using the Papyrus font for its logo. Everything from the script to the filming and the performances elevated this to high art as comedy. And then to give us the word Papyrus in Comic Sans?! Graphic designers cringed nationwide at that one.
Cecily Strong and Ryan Gosling did a great job of selling this ridiculous premise of a couple incensed that they were fooled into thinking Pizza Hut pasta was from a fine restaurant. They looked like precious snowflakes triggered beyond reason by something completely innocuous. “It's actually Pizza Hut, so isn't that fun?” Mikey Day asked at one point, trying to defuse the situation. “You son of a bitch!” Gosling retorted before threatening to kill him multiple times. Once again, he played it completely straight -- save when he started laughing at the end -- and it really worked for the intense ridiculousness of the premise. In a fun twist, the closing card was for Domino's with the tagline “At least we're not liars.”
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Two of the new featured players actually got a lot of screen-time, and it was nice to see some diversity in performances from both Chris Redd and Heidi Gardner. Usually featured players get to play a random spouse or someone who just agrees the first several weeks, but these were a little meatier.
But that didn't give them the honor this week. From Jeff Sessions to Ms. Rafferty to Angela Merkel, Kate McKinnon was absolutely hilarious embodying these familiar characters. Recurring characters aren't always enough to earn this title, but McKinnon was absolutely hilarious in all three characters, pushing herself deeper into the absurdity with each one.
Next week, Wonder Woman Gal Gadot is joined by Sam Smith on “Saturday Night Live,” airing live coast-to-cast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.