Tonightly, we’re going to take a look at Comedy Central’s new post-Daily Show programming: The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.
The Nightly Show is still a work in progress, but host Larry Wilmore’s already proven he’s worthy of his time slot, weeknights at 11:30, following The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He’s not Steven Colbert and he doesn’t have to be: it’s his own show, he does what he wants, and he takes on any and all topics with full force, controversial or not.
There were reasonable questions about whether Wilmore could carry his own show. He was an excellent occasional Daily Show correspondent, but his ability to work a full show was a question mark. He was a bit of an unknown quantity to most viewers outside his Daily Show contributions (despite his long history in TV), and no one had any idea what to expect. Wilmore getting the slot was also admittedly a bit of good luck on his part – if Colbert left earlier, it’s entirely possible that pre-HBO John Oliver would have been a prime candidate for that spot. But within a few episodes, Wilmore’s made it blatantly clear: he’s got this. Wilmore’s appearances as “Senior Black Correspondent” on The Daily Show were always subdued—he never raised his voice, and his delivery felt well calculated. In The Nightly Show, he’s able to display more of personality and it emphasizes his work. The first few shows were intelligent and enjoyable, he read his lines a little too fast and his discussions were unfocused. As of this review, he’s improved in every category and just gets better every night.
The smartest thing Wilmore did was make sure his show wasn’t a carbon copy of anyone else’s. It’s decidedly different than The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or even Last Week Tonight. The closest style comparison would be to Real Time with Bill Maher, but with a more focused, one-topic monologue at the front. Even the panels are similar, which usually consist of a diverse set of credible voices mixed in with a comedian or two. Wilmore generally focuses on a single topic, brings on the panel, and then plays a game of “Keep it 100%,” where he asks his panelists funny and challenging questions and gauges audience response.
I’m still not entirely sold on the panel, but in a mere two weeks he’s managed to improve on the format. Wilmore’s panels consist of four people, usually one a journalist with a specific expertise, someone with a slightly dissenting view, someone with personal experience in the relative field, and a comedian who’s just there to get a laugh or provide a layman’s perspective. The first panel of the season was an active, fruitful discussion, but it was also pure chaos at times. The video editor who miraculously sliced that Frankenstein monster together in less than twenty-four hours deserves a lifetime supply of Gatorade to rehydrate. As the show has gone on, Wilmore’s become more adept at leading the panel discussion, and there’s much less shouting and overlap. That said, I’m still not sure it’s what will work for the show in the long run. Wilmore’s panels are refreshing change from the norm because they consist mostly of people of color, but four panelists is a bit much, and it’s more conducive to programs that are a full hour instead of twenty-two minutes. There’s a part of me that believes this is only in place until the writers start finding their voice, but if they plan on keeping the large panels, they’re going to need to tweak it to make it sustainable.
In many ways, “Keep it 100%” is the highlight of the show. The questions range from serious to ludicrous, and you spend the entire panel discussion wondering what the writers are going to throw at the panelists. I want to go on the show just to get a “Keep It 100%” sticker.
I wish I could say it was all good, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room during Wilmore’s episode on vaccines. The first segment of the show was a solid deconstruction on how vaccines are safe and people who believe otherwise are harming their children and everyone around them. For the panel segment, he brought on Zoey O’Toole, who is openly “pro-vaccine choice.” I am 100% okay with Wilmore bringing on someone who’s openly pro-vaccine choice—the token dissenter is a long tradition in talk and panel shows. My issue is that O’Toole’s Granola Mom shtick got the lion’s share of panel time, while the panelist who was brought on to be the voice of reason barely spoke at all. Several times during the panel Granola Mom cited debunked or straight-up false statistics (such as the supposed gap between getting the vaccine and “regressing,” something that has been thoroughly disproven), and made several statements that just made no sense. At few points did anyone, Wilmore or otherwise, tell Granola Mom she was full of shit, and that if she’d paid attention to the previous segment she’d know that. Bill Maher’s wrong about a lot of things, but when someone comes on his show and says something he deems wrong, he’s not afraid to call them on it right then and there. Maybe Wilmore’s just playing it safe while developing his own reputation, but I draw a hard line at letting pseudoscience run unchecked. It was an out of character moment for Wilmore, who’s usually willing to let his opinion about matters be known, as evidenced by him blatantly calling Cosby a rapist and the Patriots cheaters.
Wilmore’s off to a solid start and has boundless potential. He’s honest, intelligent, and, most importantly, funny. The show still needs some tightening, but the staff clearly recognizes that and they’re getting better every night. Wilmore isn’t the next Colbert, Wilmore is the first Wilmore, and it’s a great one-two punch with The Daily Show.
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore airs Monday thru Thursday at 11:30pm, 10:30c.