February 8, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”


FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE:  Monday 10:30PM on TBS – Potential DVR Alert

It is written, apparently, that all alumni of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show who aren’t starring in movies or sitcoms must have their own comedy news series, and tonight it was the turn of Samantha Bee.  TBS’s marketing of the series premiere, as well as its very title, suggested that FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE would lean heavily on the fact that Bee is one of the first women to headline one of these, but the premiere didn’t particularly play up that angle, offering instead a standard-issue Stewart-like political zinger-thon.

On The Daily Show, Bee’s pieces gravitated toward the more slapstick end of the show’s humor, but behind her own wheel, her aim was deadlier.  Now that we’ve watched Trevor Noah navigate Stewart’s chair for several months, it’s become clear that under his regime, The Daily Show‘s chief strength and weakness is his somewhat Olympian style.  Noah is a newcomer to the US, and he views our antics with a detached amusement that’s quite smart, and particularly adept at pointing out absurdities.  He rarely seems to be emotionally engaged by what he’s ridiculing, though–he’s not angry.  Frustrated, furious indignation was Stewart’s comedy superpower, and Bee joins John Oliver as being able to express that kind of sarcastic righteous fury, with targets like Hillary Clinton’s absurd claim that she’d never expected to be running for President.

It’s not clear whether tonight’s format will be Bee’s regular pattern, but the episode dealt with one subject, albeit a big one:  current primary news.  As with Oliver’s show, there were no on-screen correspondents or on-set interviews, just Bee holding down the first two acts by herself, with a judicious use of killer clips of her targets.  (At a sad reaction shot of Marco Rubio’s children in the audience as he was screwing up this weekend’s New Hampshire debate, she cooed “Don’t worry; Daddy’s coming home soon.”)  As on The Daily Show, the behind-the-scenes producers are some of the real heroes, as with an inspired montage of footage from the most recent Democratic debate that really did make it look like Bernie Sanders was repeatedly gesturing for a waitress’s attention while Hillary Clinton tried to speak.

The most interesting part of the Full Frontal premiere was its last act, an extended pre-taped piece about Jeb Bush’s campaign that was structured as a parody of Werner Herzog’s moody documentaries, complete with Germanic narrator.  The picture of Bush as comically doomed wasn’t all that different from the footage being used just about everywhere, but the presentation was an original spin that scored its laughs without going over the top.

Like John Oliver, Bee will only appear once per week.  (And since she airs on a commercial network and not HBO, her half-hour is about 10 minutes shorter than Oliver’s.)  That should give her plenty of material to choose from, and plenty of time to figure out an approach different from the competition’s.  Bee has a sharp comic persona and a solid production team, and there’s plenty of reason to think she’ll thrive in her new spotlight.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."