Pedro Pascal Gets the Giggles on a Fun, Breezy Saturday Night Live

Comedy Reviews Saturday Night Live
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Pedro Pascal Gets the Giggles on a Fun, Breezy Saturday Night Live

And Your Host…

Nobody needs to be sold on how talented and charming Pedro Pascal is, but man is Pedro Pascal talented and charming. It’s a good thing, too, as this was one of the looser Saturday Night Live episodes in a while. Several of Pascal’s sketches got laughs more from him and his scene partners breaking unintentionally than from the actual jokes, and Pascal himself started out a little wobbly before coming on stronger in the episode’s second half.

Luckily for us, he’s Pedro Pascal. Pascal’s monologue was more sincere and sort of cuddly than it was hilarious. (I did appreciate his realization that his Mandalorian voice without the helmet on sounds kind of porn-y, and the side-by-side pictures of the two very different characters he played on episodes of Law & Order.) And shouting out his Chilean parents for taking him to America when the family fled fascist Chilean dictator Pinochet brought a genuine throb to Pascal’s voice, a strain of personal sentiment that carried over to his goodnights sign-off that this was the best night of his life. He really seemed to be having a ball, and so did everyone around him. And so did I, for that matter.

The Best And The Rest

The Best: This was the sort of episode where I’m at a loss to point to one sketch and say, “This—this is a tight, focused piece of comedy.” Instead, the show coasted along on a cresting wave of silliness and utter likability. To that end, I’ll pick the hospital sketch as epitomizing everything I enjoyed about the episode. It’s that accent, you see. The joke—that Pascal’s patient wakes from a months-long coma speaking with a completely different voice and personality—could go either way. And it took the audience (and me) a full minute to catch on to the fact that Pascal’s patient is going to be speaking in such an ill-defined, damnably strange manner. Kenan’s best friend ill-advisedly tries to define Pascal’s new speech as “an L.A. mush-mouth thing,” but that’s not quite right, and the sketch would be better without the training wheels. As it is, Pascal’s patterns are so committed and yet so unidentifiable that the sketch takes off in a stream of catty gibberish and eventual and inevitable breaking from Pascal, Gardner, Kenan, and Sarah Sherman.

Now, breaking on a live sketch show is a delicate thing. When it’s forced, it’s deadly. When it’s annoyingly self-indulgent, it’s Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz. When it emerges unbidden from a host and cast taken over with an irresistible impulse because the whole shebang is just so infectiously silly, it’s the sort of magic only a show like Saturday Night Live can produce. I’m a proponent of writers’ sketches, conceptual pieces where the comic logic is the real star and the talents of the players act in service to it. And yet… sometimes watching a big star like Pedro Pascal suddenly unable to keep it together is too enjoyable to complain about. All night, it was delightfully apparent that there was a love affair between this cast and their host that spilled over to include us, too.

The Worst: The school assembly sketch was on the wrong side of loose, with Pascal’s cool teacher flummoxed by his students’ constant worshipful TikTok videos of him and Pascal himself never quite finding his feet. The payoff, that the teenagers’ Covid lockdown existences have stunted their human communication abilities, isn’t a bad out for the concept, and, for a crowd already a-swoon for Pascal, the various “sparkly fast romantic montages” of his popular Mr. Ben go down smooth. But the whole teen slang element of the sketch fell flat, at least according to this crusty old viewer, and the piece never finds a consistent rhythm. That said, having Sarah Paulson inexplicably come out as the “mommy” to Mr. Ben’s “daddy” in the adoring students’ eyes is a weird little touch. For a “worst” sketch, it’s hardly a disaster.

The Rest:SNL stepped back from the product placement tsunami that engulfed last week’s show, thankfully. That The Last of Us network HBO would get a shoutout was inevitable, but at least the pre-tape about their next expensive, Pedro Pascal-starring video game adaptation sees Pascal, grubby in his post-apocalyptic red and blue overalls, gruffly conceding, “It’s a-me, Mario” in a gritty Mario Kart series. The show’s gone to the grim reboot of innocuous kids’ stuff route before (I still go to bat for Grouch and Urkel), complete with the bewildered fake reviews gags, but this is funny stuff on its own. As per the gritty reboot playbook, Toad and Yoshi are now tortured bisexuals, Mario wolfs down mushrooms to dull the pain (“They make me feel big!”), and Toad makes the ultimate sacrifice for Mario and Chloe Fineman’s princess on the debris-strewn rainbow road in full, hands off the wheel Sons of Anarchy fatalism. (It was a red shell, after all.) There’s so much love and attention put into these genre parodies that the effort and expense being afforded such a silly concept is an equal part of the gag, and this is another winner.

The other filmed piece gets American gluttony warmed up for the Super Bowl, with a wing delivery restaurant’s takeout specials escalating until there’s a cement truck pouring ranch dressing through the windows, and hosts Pascal and Kenan cower together against the onslaught of unnecessarily abundant chicken parts. There’s an old Patton Oswalt bit that does the “aggressive, bordering on threatening restaurant promotion” idea, but, as a barely exaggerated depiction of business pandering to Americans’ bottomless hunger for couch potato snacking, this Super Bowl themed sketch builds nicely. An aside about the “sickest, saddest celery sticks” tossed in as a nod to nutrition is solid, but nothing compared to the payoff that the entire, chicken-slaughtering ritual feast is all in service of “Chirax, the chicken-god of death.” Enjoy the game.

The first of the two restaurant sketches (recycle those sets for budgetary NBC points) sees Pascal’s waiter and the rest of the Italian eatery staff fawning incessantly over four of the five women seated at one table, Pascal singling out Sarah Sherman’s confused diner as, variously, the smart and/or funny one of the group. Pascal is delightfully chipper as he swoons over four-fifths of his guests, leaving the increasingly irritated Sherman stewing at the assumption that she’s the lone writer in a group of supermodels. Marcello Hernandez, Mikey Day, and Kenan get in on the joke, with Day placing romantic candles in front of everyone before unscrewing the lightbulb over Sherman’s head, and Kenan’s chef replacing the dainty amuse bouche offered to the other women with a giant cauldron of chili for Sherman. (The way Kenan drops his Italian accent on the word “chili” is pure Kenan.) The payoff that Pascal’s waiter always pits one of a group of women against the rest in order to secure bigger tips isn’t strictly necessary, I suppose, and the second twist that the affronted Sherman zooms off on her beefy Harley while downing a handful of chili also isn’t quite there, but until then, the playful absurdity of the setup works nicely.

Putting your male host in a dress doesn’t always signal original comedy, and the visit to mom’s house certainly doesn’t break any new ground as Marcello Hernandez brings his WASP-y girlfriend Chloe Fineman home to meet his protective, judgmental mom. But dammit if Pascal doesn’t lift this one higher than I thought it would go, his commitment as the loving but deeply skeptical mother emerging with such assured specificity that I was, once again, won over. Part of the charm is how much of the sketch is played in mother and son’s native Spanish, Pascal’s scoffing insults to Fineman’s college path, dress, and choice of gift (vegan sliders) gleaned by non-Spanish speakers through judicious, rapid-fire asides. The joke of a hectoring mother not liking her son’s partner is hardly new, but Pascal and Hernandez are terrifically matched as the boyfriend tries desperately to shield his girl from his mother’s undisguised (but for language) disdain. And how breezy yet confident is Pascal, his patchy beard undisguisedly spoiling the maternal vibe while his back-and-forth with Hernandez reinforces it. So many odd little touches tonight feel just right, as when Pascal’s mother, after dumping Fineman’s gift in the trash, carefully folds and stores the nice paper bag it came in, or how he rebuts Fineman’s ill-advised revelation that her son is taking ADD medication with a firm and furious, “He doesn’t have ADD, he just likes to jump!” Fun is infectious. This was fun.

Fun, too, is Big Hollywood Quiz, the game show where three smarty-pants film historian types get flummoxed by the sheer glut of streaming, indie, and otherwise diffuse star vehicles fighting for eyeballs nowadays. There was an irritating suggestion that these three cineastes (professor, podcaster, entertainment writer) are right in being confused at the mention of acclaimed but under-the-radar films like Women Talking and To Leslie. (“Career?,” Ego Nwodim’s contestant snaps upon host Bowen Yang’s description of Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar chances.) But Yang’s host keeps putting the onus back on these self-proclaimed movie experts for their inability to recall that, say, Nicole Kidman just starred in the Apple TV+ series Roar, or that there’s a number one Netflix show called Ginny & Georgia. Still, while it’s absolutely true that even a full time TV reviewer has trouble keeping up with all the would-be high-profile prestige TV and movies playing on any number of platforms (I admit to Googling Ginny & Georgia), this seems like an awfully niche target for the first sketch of the night. That said, thanks be to Pedro Pascal, who makes his contestant’s desperate grasping for modern movie answers emerge with endearing hopefulness. “The Night… Man?,” he guesses upon being asked to name any movie that’s come out in the past five years, before accidentally winning with a resigned “Nope.” As Yang’s host signs off, he prepares his contestants to figure out just what Julia Roberts is doing on Starz. Dammit, back to Google.

Weekend Update update

With the state of Florida quickly overtaking Texas as America’s premiere fascism farm system, Jost and Che each took a few whacks tonight. Jost took one at Florida governor and middle aged man demanding to see underage girls’ menstrual records Ron DeSantis’ plan to allow citizens of the Sunshine State to carry guns without any permit whatsoever. “Everyone gets to do one murder,” says Jost, making the fine print really big for the people at home. And Che, in a story about how current Republican semi-darling DeSantis successfully bullied the College Board into dropping “controversial” Black authors from the AP African American History curriculum in said state, noted that those writers will be replaced “by authors they call ‘one of the good ones.’”

Jost and Che are very good Update anchors, in that they keep things quick, clever, and on the glib side. My days of cataloging the ways Saturday Night Live, and Update in particular, could be putting more effort into layered and sophisticated political comedy are well documented, but, hey, these guys get the laughs, and if they strike only the occasional glancing blow against a worthy target, more power to ‘em, I guess. Jost had more bite tonight, for a change, his joke about the Chinese balloon being a gender reveal prank (“Bad news for China, it’s a girl”), and another about his presumably racist grandfather not watching next Sunday’s big game (“two brothers in the Super Bowl,” accompanied by pictures of Black starting QB’s Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts) showing off surprising punching power.

On the correspondent front, Michael Longfellow scored in a low-key way as recently newsworthy Punxsutawney Phil, here portrayed as a vaping, disaffected slacker with one worried eye on impending environmental collapse. “What’s the point of me?,” might be the epitaph for Longfellow’s furry outing as a whole, if not for how his dissolute doomsaying sort of fits with the whole show’s looser vibe. And Longfellow keeps bringing his signature deadpan snarkiness to Update, a formula that may or may not turn into something lasting, depending on where Longfellow is able to channel it. Here, the line, “I’m not a bad groundhog, I just like good beaver” is more worth an eye-roll than the audience snickers it got, but Longfellow, prosthetic snout and all, commits to a characterization, and the piece finds a tone and sticks with it.

Same goes for the British rappers sketch, which I’ll give extra credit for throwing the unlikely pairing of James Austin Johnson and Devon Walker together. I’ve been impressed with how well this season’s cast has made room for a lot of different voices, and, while there’s precious little point to this piece about the two rappers’ hazy musical commentaries about English society (it’s mainly about Johnson being allergic to dairy and the supposed sex appeal of “semi-obscure Dutch footballer” Jan Wouters). Again, the piece isn’t funny enough to truly justify its existence, but Johnson and Walker are both good in it (Johnson remains a magnetic presence in character work), and I want to encourage that sort of thing.

“I just stepped in a big pile of sassy!”—Recurring Sketch Report

I’m more than prepared to retire this category if you are, SNL.

“I’m Laura Ingraham and you’re watching The Ingraham Angle, which re-airs on Telemundo as La Madre del Diablo.—Political Comedy Report

It’s apparently Bowen Yang’s lot on SNL to play anthropomorphized objects. And I get it. Yang has a put-upon deadpan snarkiness that just suits playing disgruntled icebergs, affronted insects, and, in this case the just-before-airtime downed balloon that had captured Twitter’s attention over the past few days. Added points always for a cold open incorporating some last-minute news, and Yang made a damn fine Chinese spy balloon, here seen wearing inflatable swimmies and rolling his eyes at Chloe Fineman’s interviewing Katy Tur. “Congrats, you shot a balloon,” the balloon noted, wryly mocking Americans for giving his high-altitude info gathering grief and missiles while everyone carries around a 24-7 tracking device on their phone, posts to Chinese owned TikTok daily, and stores their banking information in their notes app.

As to the “politics” part of this political cold open, yeah, not so much. I loved Kenan’s military official, patiently explaining why the government waited a few days to pop the thing. (He didn’t want it to go “whooosh” and land on his car.) And while slotting the popping into the cold open on a few hours notice was risky and all, there were some other pertinent, actually politically relevant facts that also came out in plenty of time that weren’t included. You know, how, after days of Republicans screeching about the Biden administration’s so-called weakness in not shooting down said ballon willy-nilly (complete with selfies of GOP figures pointing their shiny guns into the sky), it came out that the administration chose to study the gizmo’s capabilities, block its transmission, gather intel, and then shoot it down over water, rather than turning the heavy piece of hardware into a plummeting death-bomb some 60,000 feet in the air. Or that the Pentagon revealed that the Trump administration saw three such balloon incursions and not only didn’t shoot them down, but hid the fact from the public. You know, if you want to get a little ambitious with it, SNL.

Not Ready For Prime Time Power Rankings

I feel like this was more Pascal’s episode, simply by virtue of charisma and how obviously tickled he was to be there. Of the cast, though, Bowen Yang had the most high-profile roles, while Ego shook the house down in the ten-to-one spot. Marcello Hernandez, Michael Longfellow, and Devon Walker all took their spots in the main rotation nicely, while Molly Kearney took a step back this week. I hardly saw Andrew Dismukes at all, except during the goodnights, where he, James Austin Johnson, and Colin Jost all sported “Contract Now” t-shirts in support of SNL’s post-production editors, who have been threatening to strike for several weeks now.

“He’s a clean boy! Wash your own damn sheets, for God’s sakes!”—10 To One Report

And why not one last silly, everyone breaks sketch to finish up a most enjoyable night. Reusing the restaurant set from earlier in the episode, the players this time are Pascal, Yang, Molly Kearney, Punkie, and Ego, with Ego’s out-of-town visitor only revealing where the sketch was going once her thrice sent-back very well done steak hits the table. Before then, Nwodim made me laugh, her brash lawyer continually accusing Pascal’s confused diner of trying to get her to “give up the butt.” And then Ego started sawing away at that leathery steak, sending the entire table rocking back and forth, her generously heaped side of peas flying, and everyone’s red wine spraying everywhere, while Pascal and everyone else got the giggles. In the second go-‘round, when Nwodim puts a leg up on her chair to better hack away at her meat, it’s more than the assembled players can handle, their breaking counterpoint to Ego’s commitment, and I laughed along with them pretty helplessly. This was that kind of show. Not the sort of episode Saturday Night Live should aspire to as a rule, but the sort of happy, giddy accidental joy the live show can still find room for.

Parting Shots

“It’s like Succession, but outside.”—Yang’s balloon, on Yellowstone.

Apparently, Sarah Paulson’s appearance tonight came about because she and Pedro Pascal have been best friends since they were teenagers. This makes me happy.

For a horrible moment, I was getting “You like-a tha juice?” vibes from Pascal’s Italian accented waitstaff. Thankfully, my fears proved unfounded.

Mario Kart’s Goombas continue the “Pedro Pascal/HBO video game adaptations/evil fungus” theme.

We’re off until February 25, when Woody Harrelson will join the Five Timers Club, with musical guest Jack White, who tore the roof off of 8H last time he was there.

Dennis Perkins is an entertainment writer who lives in Maine with his wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, (Special Agent Dale) Cooper. His work has appeared in places like The A.V. Club, Ultimate Classic Rock, and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. You can find him on Twitter, where he will anger you with opinions, and Instagram, where you will be won back over by pictures of Special Agent Dale Cooper.