TV

2020 Was The Year Drew Barrymore Blew Up The Daytime Talkshow Machine

As I sat at my kitchen table, flanked by a seasonally-decorative background, caked in what my pre-pandemic self would call “makeup,” mindlessly clapping at my computer screen, I began to wonder: How did I get here? Here, being the virtual audience of the Drew Barrymore Show – a new entry in the daytime talk show circuit fronted by a child-star-turned-Letterman-flashing-young-Hollywood-elite-turned-yoga-loving-hippie-actress-you’d-love-to-get-a-spiked-kombucha-with, Drew Barrymore. Of course, I had a hunch as to the answer.

My desire to perform for my laptop’s front-facing camera like some over-caffeinated Pomeranian show dog could be boiled down to an almost debilitating sense of curiosity. I’d seen the headlines, the bolded reviews dubbing the show “hypnotically weird,” “low-key insanity,” and, a personal favorite, “where my brain is at” (the last being especially concerning considering I’ve now seen the bright-lit chaos up close and experienced its dizzying, relentless optimism first-hand).

I’d also seen viral videos making their way around social media, clips of Barrymore smashing a miniature-baby-topped cake in her mouth at a news desk, offering up cultural commentary using the word “kook-a-doodle,” bragging about her love of gas station food and stain removers, and of course, the screaming. Lots and lots of enthusiastic screaming.

But, like a BTS concert or a bout of explosive diarrhea, some things can only be understood through first-hand experience. And the Drew Barrymore Show, with its bewitching hysteria and exaggeratedly animated host, seemed to fit that bill. So I bought a ticket. Well, I registered for one online. Surprisingly, it was delivered, free of charge, to my inbox just a few hours later. Sure, the call time was sadistically early and I wasted too much of my life trying to think of a clever response to Drew’s query that I tell her something interesting about myself – I chose to detail the time I smoked weed with Ricki Lake in Texas. (Oddly enough, Drew didn’t tap me for a coveted, virtual one-on-one. That honor went to a West Coast millennial baking cakes for Black Lives Matter.)

But still, the anticipation was high, the draw of the complete unknown enough to make me entertain at least three outfit changes – tops only, bottoms would remain pajama-like.

I wanted to experience the show to understand why an actor of Drew’s caliber would decide, like so many before her, to launch herself into the daytime stratosphere and if her quirky, off-beat persona could sustain an entire season or more. (I consider myself on a first-name basis with her by the way, after what we’ve been through together during a taping of this cheery pop culture circus meant to distract stay-at-home parents burnt-out from their virtual learning responsibilities, you do away with formalities like last names.)

An emailed link brought me to a virtual hangout where a show staffer went over basic Zoom etiquette, about thirty minutes before the live show was set to air. Fan-made signs were checked, instructions to keep any hand-signals family-friendly were handed out, home-lighting was critiqued, and the obligatory applause cue was explained. How many different ways can a human being clap-on-command on a close-up cam? We were about to find out.

And because I’m a journalist who prides integrity and hopes to peel back the curtain when it comes to the mysteries of Hollywood, while Drew teased her rescue dog’s harrowing past, interviewed a cabbage patch doll named Courtney, helped Neil Patrick Harris promote his new board game, worked a bit of magic on comedian Michaela Watkins, and lamented the slow ruin of McDonald’s apple pies, I took notes. So. Many. Notes.

Some were gripes about the early call time and Drew’s boundless sense of energy.

Forget the COVID vaccine, I want whatever concoction Drew must’ve shot up right before air. No Earth-born being is this lively at 8:30 in the morning.

Others were philosophical musings on the state of our social landscape in 2020.

Neil Patrick Harris hard-selling his board-game-for-one might be the saddest, strangest, but oddly, on-the-nose example of what COVID has done to us this year. This is how historians will remember us.

There were bursts of disbelief when Drew roped fellow child star NPH into staging an intervention for “Court-kneeeeee” the doll.

Memorial music. Memorial music is playing in the background guys.

And feelings of solidarity when Drew stuck it to the fast-food corporate overlords.

Wait, do I now have beef with McDonald’s? They used to deep fry their apple pies, but now they’re baked? That feels like a personal attack.

At one point, I question my entire concept of reality when it was revealed that guest Michaela Watkins was not, in fact, in-studio but doing her interview virtually using the same technology Oprah Winfrey credited Drew with introducing to the talk show circuit.

There’s sorcery afoot!

I actually questioned a lot of things, from inspired metaphors with Drew calling one chef the “Banksy of Cakes,” to almost-hallucinatory moments that saw Drew wiggling a jelly cake while imitating turkey gobbles, to this very-real statement Drew made in response to a guest describing their humble beginnings, “I love hearing you were economically challenged!”

But I realized something as I was sucked further into Drew Barrymore’s high-pitched, psychedelic whirlpool: I was weirdly into it.

I was engaged, I was listening, even learning new things – especially when a terrific Astrology segment aired. I was laughing at Drew as much as I was laughing with her, but she invited me to do that, which might be her real superpower and how this show outlasts its naysayers. Drew, and everyone involved in this show from the writers to the producers to the cameramen, know the hook and they’re not afraid to commit themselves to the kind of ridiculousness that raises eyebrows on Twitter or earns SNL parodies if it means spreading unadulterated joy to the masses. (And scoring decent ratings.)

The daytime circuit is over-crowded with the same kind of traditionally-formatted fare – panels of women bickering, news anchors monotonously-repeating the happenings of the day, TV doctors and therapists holding interventions, courtroom catfights. Even Ellen DeGeneres, whose program felt like a small puff of fresh air when it first arrived on the scene is now battling against allegations from crewmembers that have muddied the carefully-cultivated image of kindness she’s monetized over the years. Daytime needs something new, something different, maybe even something daring.

Drew Barrymore’s show is all of those things. The kind of mind-numbing social experiment that rivals the frenzied delirium of a Safdie Brothers crime saga but interjects just enough PBS-after-school-special cheer to quiet the shrieking happening inside your brain as you watch. It’s not pretty all the time. Sometimes, it’s not even coherent. But like a 1994-era Chloe Sevigny, it’s the kind of “It Girl” of the talk show universe that you just can’t quite define, but know you should worship anyway.

We won’t make predictions on its longevity but we will celebrate its unwillingness to conform and the silent vow it’s made to be the weirdest thing on TV right now. It’s both the show we don’t deserve and exactly the kind of show we deserve in 2020.

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