It'll happen any day now: You'll come home from work, sink into your couch and flip on your TV, hoping for a Real World-Road Rules marathon or something equally vapid, and there it will be: that damn balloon, flying through the New York or Miami or Las Vegas sky, the voice of a fake newsman narrating its slow, soft descent. You'll want to switch the channel. You really will. But they'll pull you in, just like always, and there you'll be, watching the Balloon Boy Saga get ripped from the headlines.
How will they twist it? We're so glad you asked.
After a homemade hot-air balloon lands gently in the Everglades, investigators find no sign of young Eagle Keen. The boy's parents immediately announce that the episode was a hoax, designed to land them a spot on the CBS hit reality show The Outstanding Race.
Detective Horatio Caine (David Caruso), wary of the couple's story, investigates deeper and eventually discovers a quirky bird-watcher (Steve Buscemi) who says he saw a large bird fall from the sky that day. It looked like an eagle, he says, but he didn't report it, because eagles aren't native to that region. "Oh, it was an Eagle, all right," Caine says as he takes off his sunglasses, despite it being really sunny out.
When the balloon lands in the Las Vegas Hard Rock pool, investigators wrestle it away from a gaggle of drunk strippers only to find it empty. The incident is quickly labeled a hoax, but when the team arrives at the Sheen family's Lake Mead houseboat, they find Vulcher Sheen's father dead of an apparent gunshot wound.
The investigation quickly focuses on a local high roller (John Goodman), who wagered $25,000 at the Caesar's sports book that Vulcher was, in fact, inside the balloon. But while the gambler admits shooting Sheen in the knee, he denies firing the fatal bullet. That shot, Dr. Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne) surmises through some really complicated medical stuff, could only have been fired by Sheen himself -- an attempt to draw attention to himself that went terribly wrong. "Well," Langston says, poking Sheen's lifeless body, "he got our attention, didn't he?"
Lie to Me
The empty cellophane balloon gets tangled in the rotors of Marine Two, critically injuring the vice president after a crash landing on the National Mall. The Secret Service hires Dr. Cal Lightman (played by that smug British dude) to determine whether the balloon's inventor, Chuck Green, is lying about the incident being a publicity stunt. Green swears he was only trying to become famous enough to make a Family Guy cameo -- "I thought Stewie could maybe fly the balloon around Quahog for a while." But a bead of sweat falls left instead of right off the bridge of the father's nose, confirming Lightman's theory that Green was hired by the president to fly the balloon into Marine Two in an attempt to silence the blustery vice president. Law & Order: SVU
After New York firefighters retrieve the balloon from the deck of the Empire State Building, a search ensues to locate six-year-old Hawk Heeney, whose body is eventually discovered in the attic. The city's Special Victims Unit is called in, and lead detective Elliot Stabler -- already pissed that the balloon-chase coverage cut into Yankees baseball -- is determined to prove that Hawk's dad drugged the boy to keep him in the attic during his publicity stunt.
In the interrogation room, Stabler intimidates the father to the point of tears, eventually getting him to admit to engineering the elaborate hoax in an attempt to land a sitcom with Matthew Perry or maybe one of the Seinfeld guys. The episode ends with Ice-T punching Heeney in the face for no apparent reason.
Law & Order
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In the surprise final episode of TV's longest-running crime drama, detectives Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) and Ed Green (Jesse Martin) return to the show to investigate the balloon mystery. They quickly discover that the incident was a hoax, designed by Shmichard Shmeene to eventually be used as inspiration for a network-television crime procedural.
Realizing they'd been duped, the detectives react poorly, beating Shmeene to death with metal chairs, nightsticks, a coffee machine and the contents of the nearby evidence room, all within the first four minutes of the episode. The show ends abruptly, taking the entire Law & Order franchise -- and eventually the rest of NBC -- down with it.