From the jazzy intro to the red draped stage and live format, “The Rosie Show” initially feels like any late night talk show. But, this being Rosie O’Donnell and the network being OWN, there are some significant differences. The announcer, Michelle, is a woman; the opening monologue prominently features jokes about the host’s kids; and Oprah shows up. If you were expecting Letterman, you’re sure to be disappointed.
This isn’t to say the show doesn’t have it’s charms as well as some glaring problems. The debut episode starts out with a stand-up oriented monologue that feels a lot longer than the six minutes it runs. O’Donnell jokes about mean New Yorkers, friendly Chicagoans and their accents — all she needs is an airplane joke or two and she could be any bad small-town stand-up from the early 1990s. When O’Donnell mutters “I don’t get no respect” following a joke about her kids, it’s enough to make you reach for the remote. In being family friendly, O’Donnell is so inoffensive she’s simply dull. And for anyone who wants to shut their eyes and believe they’re watching the down home, gee whiz host of the early ’90s, O’Donnell quickly kills that image by repeatedly pointing out that she’s wearing Prada shoes and a Diane von Furstenberg dress.
What’s more successful is a segment borrowed from Carol Burnett — taking questions from the audience. The excitement of the audience members doesn’t always make for great humor, but it’s a reminder of the personable O’Donnell we knew before “The View.”
Weirdly, the segment ends when O’Donnell calls on a familiar face in the audience – Suzie Orman. After some stilted banter, during which O’Donnell makes it clear she doesn’t wear Prada in her day-to-day life (“Mommy wears Crocs”), Orman sets up a song and dance routine. Bursting into an off-key tribute to Oprah set to the song “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace, O’Donnell shimmies on stage with a pack of make Broadway dancers, inspiring her to blush and say, “It’s true I’m gay but I’m not dead.”
It’s a so-so introduction to the main event — a longform interview with Russell Brand (who takes the stage to another repurposed ’70s song, “Do the Russell” set to “The Hustle” – the house band of Patrice and the Boys seems to be catering to O’Donnell’s favorites).
Brand is, of course, loquacious and effortlessly charming, and O’Donnell has to do very little to steer the conversation into interesting territory. They discuss his own battle with “annoying” addiction, his vegetarianism (of which he says, after noting he hasn’t eaten meat in 20 years, “I’m starving. Meat, it does taste nice”) and Amy Winehouse. But this being a family friendly show, even Brand shows his softer side, pulling a six-year-old kid out of the audience (although of tiny Kyle, he does joke “Do you think like in ‘Oliver Twist’ I could start a little gang of child pickpockets?”). Later, we watch a filmed segment of Brand visiting Friendly House, a halfway house for women struggling with addiction. This may be a talk show, but clearly it’s an OWN talk show.
Brand is entertaining, but I have to wonder — how many guests will be able to carry almost half of an hour-long show like Russell Brand? Given the live format (which O’Donnell claims was only decided on as of Thursday of last week), it’s a gamble giving any star that much time to chatter.
Finally, the show wraps up with The Ro Game, O’Donnell’s quirky tribute to the job she wanted but lost – the hosting gig on “Let’s Make A Deal.” O’Donnell gleefully throws answers to the contestant who’s losing and it’s a bit of fun. But, as O’Donnell made playing games an amusing and fresh element on her first show, Ellen Degeneres has since picked up the ball and made similar games more outrageously fun (dropping losing contestants through trapdoors, etc.). Here, O’Donnell seems well-intentioned but a little creaky.
Of course, when her final guest – Oprah Winfrey – walks silently onto the stage, we’re reminded that O’Donnell has powerful friends — and likely one that will make sure she works out the kinks, sooner or later.