Saturday Night Live opens with MSNBC’s breaking information report concerning the downing of the Chinese spy balloon. A Pentagon official (Kenan Thompson) joins the information desk and fields questions, together with the way it breached US airspace (“The balloon was somehow able to get past our west coast anti-balloon defense system, the Seattle Space Needle”).

Later, the balloon itself (Bowen Yang) joins the present from the ocean, very bitter about his therapy (“I entertain you people for four days, and then get shot by Biden? I can’t believe I was Joe’s Osama!”) and Americans’ hypocrisy over surveillance (“Everyone’s being surveilled constantly, but it’s always ‘Shoot the balloon!’ and never ‘Unplug Alexa!’”). A frothy little bit of silliness befitting a narrative that’s been blown means out of proportion (no pun meant).

Pedro Pascal hosts for the primary time. The Last of Us star talks about starring in large franchise hits like Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian (“The other day, a guy stopped me on the street and said, ‘My son loves the Mandalorian,’ and the next thing I know, I’m Facetiming a six-year-old who has no idea who I am because my character wears a mask for the entire show”), his Chilean upbringing (“Every day, someone in Santiago will text me stuff like, ‘Will you come to my wedding?’, or “Will you sing my priest happy birthday?’, or ‘Is Baby Yoda mean in real life?’”), and early roles in Law & Order, together with one the place he performed a Hasidic Jew. The actor briefly chokes up speaking about how his mother and father fled the Pinochet authorities when he was only a child. Clearly, he’s keen about his position as host.

The Big Hollywood Quiz is a sport present the place contestants compete in showbiz-based trivia. Early questions on All About Eve and MASH show straightforward, however as soon as we get to the leisure of the 2020s, resembling Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia, Apple TV’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, and the Oscar-nominated Women Talking and To Leslie, everybody is totally stumped. A really intelligent and incisive have a look at the how the streaming age has left an enormous, empty crater within the middle of America’s fashionable tradition.

Hoping to emulate the success of The Last of Us, HBO turns one other fashionable online game right into a status drama with a dour, dystopian spin on Mario Kart. Boasting some grand CGI (by SNL requirements), it’s an honest piss-take on the host’s new hit sequence, in addition to the drained pattern of grim-and-gritty reboots and re-imaginings, though the present did it higher three years in the past with the Grouch (Joker Parody) trailer.

Next, Pascal performs a coma affected person who’s simply woken up after a miraculous restoration sporting a brand new, fey voice (“an L.A. mush-mouth thing”) and a completely new character. He doesn’t acknowledge any of his associates or household, however the physician is satisfied that he’s wonderful since he can reply complicated riddles and questions on Ken dolls and Bill Burr. It’s all constructed round Pascal’s foolish voice, which, to be honest, he absolutely commits to, though he and the solid begin breaking in the direction of the top.

At a High School meeting, Pascal’s fashionable instructor, Mr Ben, provides a presentation on scholar expertise use, begging the youngsters to cease making obsessive fancams devoted to him. He’s confused by all the brand new lingo – “You’re in your assembly era,” “You’re father,” “Mid” – means, though he comes round after his girlfriend and fellow instructor (a cameoing Sarah Paulson) exhibits up in the direction of the top and embraces it. SNL by no means comes off extra determined than when it makes an attempt to ape modern-day online-speak, though there have been worse offenders than this instance (see: the hospital sketch from Elon Musk’s episode of two seasons previous).

A industrial for Wing Pit promotes a Superbowl Sunday deal that grows increasingly more extravagant, disgusting, and damaging, culminating with “The Chick-nobyl: 5,000 wings, 10,000 beaks, a full palette of hot sauce, airdropped ranch, two of the sickest, saddest celery sticks you’ve ever seen, all pumped into your party via cement shoot.” By the top of it, we’re in full-blown horror-movie territory. Fast, bizarre and humorous, this is without doubt one of the finest sketches they’ve achieved this season.

We’re then on to Weekend Update, the place Michael Che invitations on Punxsutawney Phil (Michael Longfellow in a full-body groundhog costume) to speak concerning the subsequent six weeks of winter. Phil appears down about his place on this planet lately: “A weather-predicting groundhog in the year 2023? I’m useless. I’m like a condom in Nick Cannon’s wallet.” His despair takes an existential bent, with him considering environmental catastrophe and the idea of time, in between providing Che a “bump”, vaping, and defending his infidelity (“I’m not a bad groundhog,” he says, “I just like good beaver”).

Later, British rappers Milly Pounds (James Austin Johnson) and Shirty (Devon Walker) come on and drop some complicated bars concerning the Royal household. The viewers is noticeably useless for the phase, most likely as a result of they, like a lot of the viewers on this facet of the pond, merely aren’t acquainted sufficient with British rap to get what the joke is (rely me as one such viewer).

Then, Pascal dons drag to play a feisty Latina mom assembly her son’s (Marcello Hernandez) new girlfriend (Chloe Fineman) for the primary time. She’s very possessive and disapproving, till the lady presents to say grace, at which level she fully turns round on her. The corny, culture-class humor right here is indistinguishable from what you’d discover in any primetime sitcom, however Pascal’s vitality is infectious.

A gaggle of feminine associates out for dinner at an Italian restaurant are charmed by the flirty waiters, aside from Sarah Sherman’s diner, who the employees passive-aggressively places down in more and more merciless methods (going as far as to mistake her for The Babadook). It’s humorous all through – particularly Sherman’s offended reactions – though it loses the thread in its back-half.

Things shut out on a cocktail party that repurposes the set from the earlier sketch. A birthday lady’s tough sister (Ego Nwodim) errors a pal’s politeness for sexual curiosity, whereas making a multitude of their desk making an attempt to noticed via her “well, well, well done” steak. Things go off the rails nearly instantly, with everybody breaking and speaking over each other. Fair play to Nwodim, she could be very humorous, nevertheless it’s all so messy as to be unimaginable to observe.

This episode was in all places, with lots of the particular person sketches being uneven inside themselves. But it hit some excessive notes – the sport present sketch and scorching wings industrial – and Pascal proved himself a really entertaining and likeable host. He’s somebody the present would do effectively to deliver again, and with the precise materials, he might go on to turn into a returning favourite.

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