The Nightly Show Has A Strong Start But A Long Way To Go.

Larry Wilmore has a tough act to follow. Taking over a spinoff show from a massively successful show is already a daunting enough task. However it isn’t just Jon Stewart […]

Larry Wilmore has a tough act to follow. Taking over a spinoff show from a massively successful show is already a daunting enough task. However it isn’t just Jon Stewart he’s having to follow up. Larry Wilmore also has to succeed the nine-year pop culture icon Stephen Colbert by occupying his former time slot. There are a lot of pitfalls he has to avoid, not the least of which is avoiding simply becoming ‘The Black Daily Show’ or ‘The Black Colbert Report’ . Fortunately, Larry Wilmore has shown himself to be one of the sharpest comedians in the Daily Show’s roster. He’s managed to still be incredibly funny while discussing difficult issues and without losing the edge to what he’s discussing. It’s also hard to argue with the pedigree.

I waited two weeks to review this show because a current events show depends on how it reacts to changing issues more than the standing quality of a single issue. I’ve never heard of anyone binge watching the Daily Show from the beginning like people do with Star Trek or Buffy. I needed a good sample size to decide how I felt the show would pan out. The good news is the show very quickly and fully separates himself from its siblings by creating a new format. Rather than covering numerous stories, the entirety of the show is dedicated to one controversial issue such as Bill Cosby or the Koch Brothers. The opening gives Wilmore a Daily Show-esque monologue but after the commercial break it cuts to a panel of guests to discuss the issue at hand.

To Wilmore’s credit he is an excellent moderator. He brings in dissenting voices and speaks up to keep the disagreements from becoming too heated and prevents the opponents shouting at each other. A real and healthy debate does take place. That is kind of the problem though. Many times the show doesn’t feel like a successor to the Daily Show so much as it does a new show on PBS or NPR. It doesn’t even feel like a show on Fox or MSNBC: Those shows operate under the premise that shouting matches are ratings gold. The guests are much less interested in being funny than getting their message across. The recurring contributors and guest comedians valiantly try to keep it amusing, but they still want to keep an informative ‘edutainment’ angle. It’s also worth noting that there is a lot of awkward editing in the show. It almost feels like a rushed podcast at times, where you can clearly tell the conversation was edited for time. No doubt the editing is to keep the show down to a manageable time and The Daily Show occasionally has these kinds of clear breaks. However The Daily Show doesn’t do it as often and also provides the full interview online. I don’t know that the show would benefit from posting the full panels since it’s clear the editing is to give us the highlights.  The ideal would be that they  simply manage to make the transitions more fluid. It’s still an engaging show, but often it feels out of place as a follow up to a show as consistently funny as the Daily Show.

The decision to focus on a single issue is a double-edged sword. The quality of the material depends entirely on how well Wilmore and his crew are educated and invested in the material. An episode focusing on the scandal revolving Bill Cosby ended up being hilarious and engaging. And the decision to focus on it for the entire show offers more insight and comedy from a situation than Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert could provide. After all, any show that opens with ‘I’m telling you that motherfucker did it.’ is bound to be an engaging one. However, shows focusing on opening borders with Cuba or the controversy over the film American Sniper felt weighed down by lack of information or simple indifference. The American Sniper episode in particular has Wilmore all but flat-out saying he didn’t think it was that big a deal. One has to wonder if some issues are pushed on to him because of the idea they’ll appeal to the liberal millenials watching the show.

The final segment of the show ‘Keep it One Hundred’ is more actively funny, but I worry about its shelf-life. Its premise is to ask people difficult questions. If they answer honestly then they get a badge for ‘keeping it one hundred’ or being completely honest for those of you not hip to the lingo the kids are using these days. The segment is more consistently funny but it can only be taken so far. The assumption that stands is that as the show goes on, Wilmore will develop new segments that can push in other directions. After all Colbert stopped doing his ‘Word’ segment after a few weeks as well.

The Nightly Show stumbles a bit. It didn’t emerge as fully formed or polished as the Colbert Report, nor does it have quite the strong lineup that Daily Show has acquired over its many years. It has a strong host, premise, and an in-depth look into the issues that is a fresh new look. It’s easy to say that I’ll be seeing what’s happening tonightly.