The last time I checked in with “The Talk,” it was like showing up during the closing moments of a wedding reception that’s gone off the rails — the bride and groom are drunk, the flower girl has thrown up behind the buffet table and the guests have started an impromptu cake fight. With wild monkey co-host Leah Remini cackling and chattering hysterically on every episode, the tone of the show was set firmly at “hormonal breakdown” on a daily basis as Remini’s co-hosts battled to get a word in edgewise and Julie Chen looked on with an expression of mild distaste. It was a car accident, but one that was easy to look away from.
This season, however, “The Talk” has cleaned house and started over. Remini is gone, as is Holly Robinson Peete. We’ll never know if Peete might have found her footing on the show with Remini gone. It’s really too bad, as she sometimes did have salient points to make and a quiet, wry wit that often got lost in the shuffle. In any case, the show is down to Sarah Gilbert, Chen and Sharon Osbourne with a rotating cast of guest hosts. While the reason for rotating guest hosts is ostensibly Osbourne’s desire to spend more time with her husband (someone probably should keep an eye on Ozzy), I’m guessing producers are feeling a little gun shy about making a full commitment to anyone as a permanent co-host. I mean, at one point Remini didn’t look completely batcrap crazy.
So far, guest hosts seem to be wisely steering clear of Remini’s antics. Mama Kardashian Kris Jenner, comedienne Sheryl Underwood and actress/comediennes Aisha Tyler and Molly Shannon have been relatively coherent, low-key additions. Underwood is perhaps the strongest personality among the new guard, but she never dominates the table to such an extent that her co-hosts are blown back in their seats. In addition to solid comic timing, she has a wealth of interesting life experience (an Army vet and sorority girl, Underwood recently spoke about her husband’s suicide on the show) to sprinkle into otherwise stilted conversations. While it’s a little disappointing to see Shannon on the very format she once parodied on “SNL,” she’s an engaging presence, as is Tyler. But perhaps the biggest surprise is how solid Jenner is as a talk show host — personable, chatty and calmly opinionated. Maybe the kids aren’t the real talent (and I use that word loosely) in the Kardashian house after all.
But now that things have settled down around the hosts’ table, the real issues with “The Talk” only become more apparent. “The View” casts a considerable shadow, and it’s hard for “The Talk” not to come up short. Even without Remini, our hosts lack the frenemies tension we can see on “The View” whenever politics are on the topic du jour. Two of the co-hosts who will never be fired – Julie Chen (wife of CBS CEO Les Moonves) and show executive producer Sara Gilbert — are measured, thoughtful — and usually a little dull. There’s never going to be great chemistry on “The Talk” by virtue of the fact two of the co-hosts are cold fish.
More importantly, though, the “The Talk” just isn’t unique in any discernible way. Occasionally the show tries to mix things up with a game a la “Ellen” (Are You Smarter Than Jean Smart), but without Ellen Degeneres’ quirky sense of humor. Mostly, though, it’s the conventional talking heads and interview format. Originally, the “twist” was that current events would be explored through the unique perspective of motherhood — an angle that seems to have been discarded. Though it wasn’t a particularly good twist, at least there seemed to be an understanding that “The Talk” needed to be something other than a poor copy of “The View,” and now it seems the show is just muddling along, hoping to find some balance in the wake of giving two co-hosts the boot. The result can only come up short.