I watched the first episode of The Nightly Show. I’ve been looking forward to it, because I think that Larry Wilmore is brilliant. Just the same, it is replacing The Colbert Report so I was concerned that it mightn’t live up to my expectations. There is the issue that Wilmore’s character on The Daily Show was just as limited as Colbert had been. But given that Colbert was a parody of the self-parody Bill O’Reilly, I thought that Wilmore’s subtle and intelligent satire mightn’t translate to a half hour show.
There was nothing to worry about. The Nightly Show seems to be patterned on Politically Incorrect. The show opens with Wilmore doing a monologue. But unlike it was with Bill Maher, it isn’t a stand-up comedy kind of thing. As far as I know, Wilmore is not and never has been a stand-up comedian (again, like Colbert). It was more a humorous essay. And it was strong and very funny. I know that people think that a first episode ought to be really good because all the writers get weeks to work on it. But this is not my experience. Shows normally get better over time.
The B and C blocks were panels. Last night’s was made up Shenaz Treasury, Cory Booker, Talib Kweli, and Bill Burr as “the white guy.” It is a shame that these shows feel the need to include actual politicians like Booker. As politicians go, he isn’t terrible. But the truth is that politicians in this day are so media polished that they literally never say anything that is interesting. And Booker got far too much time to talk. Treasury got little time to talk, although she did bring up the canard about black-on-black crime, noting that roughly 84% of crime is white-on-white. Bill Burr was funny and at least a little provocative in suggesting that the only way that society really changes is when psychopaths get in charge. That was meant to over the top, but his notion that protests now seem to be illegal was dead on.
The best moment in panel discussion was when Booker said that we can’t reduce everything to a binary situation: police officers against the civilians. But Kweli, in his understand way, shot back against this whole kind of “blue lives matter” narrative. He pointed out that protest movements are about solidarity, “You don’t go to a rally to beat cancer and say, ‘All diseases matter!'” That’s a great observation and it gets to the underlying problem with Booker’s point, which is that it is really all about shutting down conversation. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of this kind of (even polite) conflict in the discussion. But I expect that to improve over time.
The C block involved something called, “Keeping it 100.” In it, Wilmore asked a question of each of the guests where they were supposed to be absolutely honest. If they were, they got a “I Kept It 100” sticker and if not they got a tea bag — “weak tea.” The segment itself was weak tea. The only interesting question was for Talib Kweli about whether hip hop helps or hurts images of African Americans. Clearly, Kweli could write a book on the subject and he tried to provide a nuanced answer but was not given the time. Ultimately, he just said what everyone should know: hip hop is a symptom of society, not a cause. I’m not at all sure this segment is going to stand the test of time.
However, in the short D block, “Keeping it 100” was applied directly Wilmore. They plan to take questions from social media and have Wilmore hear them for the first time live. The question last night was, “What’s the last racist thought you had?” I think this could work pretty well as long as the staff really test Wilmore.
Overall, for a first episode, I thought The Nightly Show was excellent. I think it has a lot of potential. The question is whether Comedy Central will give it enough time to mature. The Daily Show took years to reach its stride. I think the format of The Nightly Show will make it easier to do that. But we’ll see. I’ll definitely be watching.