Network: Comedy Central; Genre: Parody, Satire; Content Rating: TV-PG (for some language and adult content); Perspective: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Seasons Reviewed: Series
Believe me or not, there is a small, silent, underground majority in America that - despite the endless orgasmic screams of the critical press - doesn't like "The Daily Show". Their reasons may include its insultingly transparent liberalism, that it has fallen down on the job as a media satire or that Jon Stewart is simply too hammy and spotlight-hogging. In my review of "The Daily Show" (of which I've probably received more feedback than any review - both for and against), I don't make a secret of how I think Stewart has run this once fantastic media satire into the ground. I suggested that a way to get the show back to its edgy roots would be to hand over host duties to veteran correspondent (and "Strangers With Candy" co-star) Stephen Colbert.
For me, and that small, silent, underground group, "The Colbert Report" is like an answered prayer. Though I'm amazed it took this long for Colbert's talents to finally get a stage of their own, this show was worth the wait. You may be wondering, is it really THAT much better? And the answer is a resounding "yes".
Where "Daily" has become a warped political soap box pandering to the NYU crowd, "Report" brings the focus back to the press itself - specifically, the rise of ego-maniacal political pundit shows. It is a subject where some real, smart parody is badly needed and "Report" nails it right through the heart. Instead of playing the commentator and delivering a message, "Report" is an invigorating trip back to the straight-faced, full-length parody of Craig Kilborn's "Daily Show" days.
Colbert is clearly having a blast in the character. For those who know the references, Colbert subtly mimics the attitudes and most ridiculous quirks of Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews,Keith Olberman, Aaron Brown, Sean Hannity, and the like, perfectly (although the NYU crowd will only see O'Reilly in the show).His name is plastered all over the set, he stands prominently in a cyclone of computer graphics during the intro and he hysterically struts across the stage relishing audience applause while that night's guest just sits in the wings and waits.
Obviously Colbert is what makes this all work. It is a night and day comparison with Stewart. His deadpan comic delivery is perfect for the show. His interviews are actually interesting, often going off on tangents, asking intentionally idiotic questions and easily distracted. Unlike Stewart who lives and dies by audience approval, Colbert is such a confident force he can actually be heard to tweek the audience's buttons a bit. I particularly love a "Gravitas-Off" between Colbert and Stone Phillips in the first episode as well as "The Word" segment in which Colbert is pushed to the side by a Talking Points-style graphic. When Colbert discusses the death of Rosa Parks, The Word is "overrated".
Maybe someday in the future we'll be able to watch a political comedy series that isn't chased with liberal bitterness, but not today. "Report" exists in the same niche universe as "Daily" where George Bush is public enemy numero uno and polls claim 100% of the public disapprove of the war in Iraq. The brilliance of Colbert is that by positioning himself (for the most part) in the role of a fictitious right-wing pundit, he manages to deflect the political posturing back into the comic arena. He rarely lets his politics get in the way of going for the gag and saying the unexpected. For once, we get a show that manages to be edgy, exclusively left-wing and intensely funny at the same time.
Time will tell if "The Colbert Report" will remain this sharp and fresh. Will it become as lazy as "The Daily Show" or will its closed universe of running gags become tiresome? Yeah, "The Colbert Report" is a one-joke show, but this time that joke is damn funny and Colbert is capable enough to sustain it for series length. One of the best shows of the year.
* * * * / 4
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