The downing of a Chinese spy balloon on Saturday afternoon ended America’s fixation on the balloon’s dayslong journey across United States airspace and provided “Saturday Night Live” with irresistibly topical subject matter for its opening sketch just a few hours later.
The “SNL” broadcast, hosted by Pedro Pascal and featuring musical guest Coldplay, started with a sendup of an MSNBC broadcast anchored by Chloe Fineman, playing TV journalist Katy Tur.
“Tonight, our long national nightmare is over,” Fineman said. “We got the balloon.”
She introduced a Pentagon official played by Kenan Thompson, who explained how the balloon was eventually brought down.
“The balloon was somehow able to get past our West Coast anti-balloon defense system, the Seattle Space Needle,” Thompson said. “But once it was here, we were able to keep an eye on it with our sophisticated tracking technology. Of going like this.” Here, Thompson simply looked up above him.
He added: “I know there were questions about why we didn’t shoot it down immediately. But we wanted to wait until it was over the coast, so that it wouldn’t fall on people.”
“Or go ssh-ssh-ssh-ssh,” he continued, making the sound of a deflating balloon, “and land on my car.”
Fineman went on to interview a second guest: the remains of the balloon itself, played by Bowen Yang, who seemed none too happy to be floating in the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Well, you got me,” Yang said wryly. “Congrats, you shot a balloon.” With disbelief, he added, “I entertain you people for four days and then get shot by Biden? I can’t believe I’m Joe’s Osama.”
Yang recoiled at Fineman’s description of his being as wide as three buses. “OK, ouch,” he said. “I’m a balloon, so that’s my body. How would you like it if someone measured your width in buses? Sorry I’m not camera-ready.”
He also denied that he had been spying nefariously on people.
“By me?” Yang asked. “A balloon? Everyone’s being surveilled constantly, but it’s always ‘Shoot the balloon’ and never ‘Unplug Alexa.’ If you care so much about your data, why do you all keep your bank passwords in the Notes app? You mail your literal DNA to a company to find out if you’re, like, 10% French. But je suis just a balloon.”
By the end of the interview, Yang had given up on this pretense.
“You’ve made it very clear that I’m not welcome here, so good job,” he said. “But let me tell you something: You’re going to miss this Chinese spy balloon — I mean, normal balloon. Damn it. Well, whatever, we already have your data.”
Fake Movie Trailer of the Week
Now that Pascal has helped make a hit of the HBO zombie thriller “The Last of Us,” based on the PlayStation franchise, “SNL” has its own suggestion for the next video game that can be adapted into a prestige dystopian drama: “Mario Kart.”
Although this trailer — starring Pascal as the red-hatted Nintendo plumber, Mario, and Fineman as his perennially endangered love interest, Princess Peach — is fake, it is pretty knowledgeable about the mechanics of the actual game. And Pascal’s husky-voiced interpretation of Mario already brings more to the role than, say, Chris Pratt’s take did.
Medical Issue of the Week
While there are any number of sketches from this weekend’s broadcast that we could point to as evidence of Pascal’s comedic range, we’ll single out this one, which finds him waking up in a hospital bed after a weekslong coma and talking with a strange vocal fry that makes him sound like Julia Garner’s version of Anna Delvey in “Inventing Anna.” (A character played by Thompson in the sketch describes Pascal’s voice, not inaccurately, as an “L.A. mushmouth thing.”)
Pascal commits completely to the bit, even though he and Heidi Gardner come extremely close to breaking as the scene turns more sentimental. (He couldn’t quite keep it together for the night’s final sketch, featuring Ego Nwodim as a particularly unrestrained guest at a birthday dinner.)
Fake Ad of the Week
With the Super Bowl right around the corner, are you feeling hungry for chicken wings? Like, really hungry? Like really, really hungry?
Even so, you should probably stay away from Wing Pit, the increasingly terrifying chicken franchise advertised in this fake commercial, despite its wide range of unnecessary offerings. Its menu options rapidly escalate from four dozen wings for $39.99 to 600 wings for $205.99. (No pricing was immediately offered for some of the more extravagant selections, including a 3,000-wing “chicken carnage platter” and a meal of 5,000 wings and 10,000 chicken beaks, piped into your home via a cement chute.)
Don’t forget to wash it all down with a hard slurry chicken smoothie. Happy game day!