It always feels weird to watch a talk show host have to fight back their more vicious impulses to interview someone who they think is abhorrent, especially someone who they’ve taken to task before on the air. Forced cordiality can’t feel good, and it certainly doesn’t look good to the audience.
Like so many things, David Letterman got it. That’s why he often checked out or bit down when he had someone opposite him who he didn’t care for. Jon Stewart walked the line quite nicely in his time, throwing elbows and challenging his guests. Those who showed up earned a bit more respect for their willingness to look the liberal lion in the teeth. Sadly, Letterman and Stewart’s replacements aren’t as contemptuous or ferocious. Stephen Colbert and (to a lesser degree) Trevor Noah are forced to compete at a time when everyone is too damn nice and everyone is competing for the same guests on a nightly basis. Samantha Bee, on the other hand, has zero interest in playing that game on her new weekly show, Full Frontal. No in-studio guests. No party games with the candidates. No fake-niceness.
I don’t want to give the impression that Bee is an equal opportunity puncher, though. Jokes about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in Monday night’s premiere episode were amusing and just fine, but they felt more like familiar jabs that couldn’t possibly leave a mark. Bernie Sanders is selling himself as impossibly austere, and Hillary really wants to be President. We’ve heard it before. I’ve never heard the words “vegamatic,” “Whole Foods,” and “Planned Parenthood” strung together before last night, though. And I’ve never heard someone referred to as a “sentient caps lock button” or heard someone’s facial hair be compared to a “glory hole remnant.” To put it succinctly, Samantha Bee saves her hardest swipes and her most creative humor for Republicans because she’s clearly offended by their ideals. Or, at least, that’s what she did on her first night. And while that’s somewhat predictable because all late night shows take an obvious lean to the left, it’s also refreshing because we’re never going to be made uncomfortable while watching Bee try to get through an interview with Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, or another politician whose ideals she’s offended by. (Though, I suppose, it might not be all that refreshing if your politics go in the opposite direction.)
Samantha Bee Is A Woman!
I feel like every article about Full Frontal has led with this obvious point, and I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here somewhere: Samantha Bee is late night television’s only female host and, thankfully, she’s not looking to quietly fit into the pack and hide that fact. Full Frontal‘s opening scene attempted to address the incessant curiosity about what it’s like for Bee to be a woman on late night, and her biggest swings came when responding to Rubio’s abortion remarks during the New Hampshire debates, and in response to Kansas state senator Mitch Holmes’ female legislator dress code. On another show, these moments might have been missing or they may have been discussed with less authority, but on Full Frontal, they were the high points. It’s nice to have a woman’s perspective in late night. More would be better.
Coming off of an almost 12-year stint as a correspondent on The Daily Show, Bee is probably best known for her work in the field, so it’s delightful to hear that she’s going to bring a lot of that to Full Frontal. In interviews, Bee has spoken about upcoming segments in Jordan, and one’s that examine TRAP laws in Texas (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), the objectification of women at comic conventions, and the mistreatment of female veterans by the system. These all sound compelling. You can see the potential for comedy and, to a greater degree, discussion. Unfortunately, the premiere episode closed on a purported “foreign exchange student film” about the dying Jeb(!) Bush campaign. The segment was well produced and blessed by Bush’s sad, “Please clap” remarks from last week, but it didn’t say much more than, “Look at this sad bastard who thought legacy and experience mattered in an age of fiery rhetoric and freak show media curiosity.” Worse, the inclusion of the Jeb(!) segment made the show feel as though it was too focused on the election.
Naturally, Bee is going to have something to say each week about Presidential politics as the election continues to ramp up in intensity (and ridiculousness), but the promised variety of those other segments makes it known that Full Frontal will have more creative balance going forward, and that’s a good thing because there’s a whole lotta world for Samantha Bee to take on.