Stephen Colbert’s departure from late night cable left a void so massive that it collapsed back in on itself, leaving only a black hole of sorts in its wake, smack dab in the time slot between The Daily Show and @Midnight on Comedy Central. Despite my spurious usage of physics terminology, you feel me here, right? But I think Stephen actually did whoever came behind him a huge favor. A) He made millions of people hungry for that slot. (And no, after hearing how that reads, I am not going back to change it) B) He went out with such a satisfying bang after so many great years that mourning his loss came in a healthy and measured way over months before he left. C) He was so fucking good that we don’t have any hope whatsoever that what comes next is going to be in the same ballpark of awesomeness.
If you ask me, Larry Wilmore and the Nightly Show crew are some lucky, lucky folks.
So what are we watching here?
I have found Larry Wilmore’s bits on The Daily Show over the years to be perfectly dry and well performed. Did he have the chops though to carry a whole show by himself? I honestly didn’t know, but trusted Jon Stewart’s team at Comedy Central not to disappoint.
Brian Lowry over at my other blog, Variety (it’s a little better known than this one), had this to say about the premiere episode.
Stephen Colbert left some sizable shoes to fill, and “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore” – having lost the right to use its much better name, “The Minority Report” – showed promise, while also displaying unwieldy elements that will likely require some fine-tuning. Mixing “The Daily Show’s” opening with the panel format of Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Wilmore exhibited a quickness and light touch about sensitive topics, yet struggled to bring much coherence or flow to the overpopulated discussion that took up most of the premiere. The unknowns, at this point, outnumber the knowns, making an unqualified tip of the hat premature.
First off, yes The Minority Report was indeed a hilarious name, but for legal reasons it had to be changed. The Nightly Show is a good name, and I think by not using the other moniker, it allows the show to be about more social issues than race alone, which is better for everyone, as it will keep the show fresh for a broader audience. I don’t doubt that the show will still take plenty of time to talk about the minority experience in America.
And yes, some elements will need fine-tuning, but over-all I think it could have a good mix, a predictable format with a range of differing panel guests each night. Most notable is the segment called “Keep it 100″ as in “Keep your answers 100% honest” in which the guests are asked provocative questions often aimed at getting them to admit their own deep-seated prejudices. It is highly uncomfortable, though, as we live in a society where the take-down culture is strong, and any well-known guests will have enemies who could try to use their comments to troll them in the press or on social media. Yeah, it’s easy for the firebrand D-lister comedians to admit they would cross the street to avoid walking past a threatening-looking minority, but what about an author, a politician, a public figure of any kind?
It just seems like a recipe for disaster. And it’s too bad, because apart from the potential repercussions, seeing people admit to their prejudices on national TV is a powerful thing. To admit that you would in reality do XYZ when most would view it as the non-pc move (and yet still identify) is not only refreshingly honest, but also allows us to examine the fears behind the prejudices. And only when you can examine a fear, can you identify its bullshit elements and reject it. Major problem is that the segment is given so little time, it’s really difficult to dig down in and have any illuminating discussion. It’s really only skipping a rock across the issues rather than meaningfully stirring up the conversation. “Keep it 100″ is a segment that does need refining (or expanding), but could be a funny way to air out some of our cultural baggage, hopefully in the service of getting rid of it. We shall see.
I think the panel does add to the show, something Collin O’Quinn mastered with his old show, Tough Crowd with Collin Quinn, that ran from 2002-2004 on Comedy Central. And Larry deftly guides his guests and keeps the discussion moving, but it does feel a little “overpopulated” as Brian Lowry describes it. Collin Quinn’s guests were almost always comedians, so the rapid-fire exchanges were sharp, often yelled and highly entertaining as well as sometimes thought-provoking. The relatively higher-brow version Larry Wilmore is attempting is having a hard time finding a middle ground the way Bill Maher has. *Note: he only has three guests max usually and can introduce them individually…and I think he has more time to chat with them. Something for The Nightly Show to think about.*
Despite these potential problems down the road, as for now, when there is nothing left on Hulu to watch, I find myself happily pressing play on The Nightly Show. It will never be as good as Colbert was, and that is to be expected, but perhaps it could become good enough to create the same post-Daily Show routine.
I’ll give it a rating of two drunken ninja-mules fighting to the death for their family honor.
There I blogged again…about What I’m Watching. Enough TV for you. Go read a book.