In an almost weird bit of prescience, I broke up with Michelle Wolf’s The Break just days before Netflix did. The several articles I read announcing it reported that Netflix hadn’t offered a reason for the cancellation, and speculated on connections with an apparent history of failed talk shows. Netflix just bad at talk shows, was the implication.
Let me offer another reason, perhaps the real reason. The show was awful. It was painfully not funny, nor was it terribly creative. It tried hard to be, but the result was usually more like a bad SNL script. And, regrettably, Ms Wolf may not be a good choice for talk show host.
After hanging in there since the beginning, I just couldn’t any more. I had to bail.
I say all this as a big fan. I absolutely support her White House Correspondents dinner speech. It was perhaps more barbed than funny, but one can — and does — argue we’re past funny these days. Her speech was appropriate to the times.
In fact, I’ve said before that something about these current event comedy shows bothers me a little. I fear that people think just watching them is enough. I also wonder if they don’t somehow contribute to normalizing the issues facing us today.
To the extent we make people like Trump into jokes, I fear we can lose sight of the real danger they pose.
Does the comedy take the sting out? The reality is, good comedy should sting. Deep and painfully. Which is something Michelle Wolf gets.
Unfortunately, it’s something that often works best as a single shot, rather than a weekly series. Too much of a message both dilutes and dulls the message.
Which really puts into perspective the breathtaking brilliance of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert (and their teams), who pulled it off four nights a week!
From where I sit, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver, haven’t come anywhere close to that magic, and I don’t watch their shows (whereas I was glued to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report every time).
For the record…
Trevor Noah and The Daily Show: I tried, but didn’t find him funny. Too young for me, perhaps, and the show seemed to shift in tone to a younger (and dumber) audience. (Or maybe just young and dumber writers.) And, I’m sorry, but I want an actual American in that particular seat.
Samantha Bee and Full Frontal: Again, I tried, I really tried, because I love her so much. But the show is one long feminist scream of rage. Which I both get and support, but won’t be watching (especially with commercial breaks).
John Oliver and Last Week Tonight: I’m on-again-off-again with this show. Oliver can be too much the clown for my taste. Too much childish giggling at his own humor. I respect the crap out of a lot of things the show has done (I bought the Marlon Bundo book). OTOH, his 20-minute in-depth pieces are often on topics I just can’t care about.
And, honestly, a lot of this is me. I can’t believe it’s me saying this, but I do really have this feeling we’re beyond funny. This isn’t a joke anymore (it never was). I have a hard time finding it funny.
So I’m saying it’s an uphill battle for one thing. At least for me.
But that aside, The Break just was… lame.
For instance, during the opening monologue, sometimes Wolf was the only one laughing at the jokes. A few titters from the audience at best.
Which brings up what might be a crucial point: Michelle Wolf, bless her heart, has terrible delivery. And, not, it’s not her voice (but that’s a bit of a challenge, too). It’s that she can’t deliver a line with a straight face.
I find that really distracting. All hosts sometimes crack up over their own jokes, but it’s the sometimes that makes it endearing and funny. You get to laugh along with them over a really good joke.
But Wolf thinks everything is funny. Equally funny, which takes all meaning out of it. She’s more like a little kid that just can’t calm down.
The show also featured these bizarre “commercials” that sometimes had some nice beats, but which often were so random and strange they left you shaking your head. And Wolf’s lack of performance skills made them hard to enjoy.
There was also a completely unnecessary DJ who added nothing.
And a third segment to the show that was usually as random and seriously unfunny as those commercials. (And, again, part of the fault may lie in the times: we’re post-empirical, post-fact, post-truth,… maybe we’re also post-funny.)
To be blunt, watching the show was sometimes a chore I performed out of loyalty to someone I admire and would like to see succeed.
But last Sunday I reached my limit. Stopped watching halfway through and removed it from my watch list. (Gave it a thumbs down, too.)
Apparently Netflix had about the same reaction.
I honestly don’t blame them.
§ § §
On a related note. (Or at least related in my mind, but good luck finding the connection.) ((Where was I… ah…))
On a related note, I saw an article in SyFy about how TBS issued a “no you can’t” legal warning to a Washington, D.C., outfit that intended to open a Rick and Morty theme bar.
The letter from the Turner lawyers is really very cute. It, also, is Rick and Morty themed. It reads, in part:
We discovered the Wubba Lubba Dub Pub on interdimensional cable and from recent press attention, where folks seem genuinely confused about your association with Turner and their sponsorship of your activities. Unfortunately, while we love your enthusiasm for the show, none of this activity was cleared by the Council of Ricks. In fact, we’ve checked all versions of the legal code across the multiverse and what you’re doing isn’t legit in any of them.
I love it! Who says lawyers aren’t funny?
The article implies a sense of hurt entitlement on the part of the outfit, Drink Company, that intended to create the theme bar. “Gee, it was for the fans! Why spoil our fun?!”
I had two initial reactions:
Firstly, it’s an interesting example of fan entitlement and how fans take a kind of literal ownership of the show they love. So of course they feel entitled to do with it what they want.
I admit to some mixed feelings about copyright since participating in a debate long ago with someone who made good points about abolishing the idea. But even after decades of consideration, I still find myself coming down on the side of protecting an artist’s work for at least some period of time.
And certainly while that work is in progress would be well with in that time.
So let’s cancel any sense of entitlement, okay?
Secondly, seriously? A Rick and Morty themed bar.
Look, I love the show. It’s one of my favorites. In many ways, it’s even better than Futurama, which is also one of my favorites.
Would I go into a Rick and Morty themed bar? Other than morbid curiosity, no, I would not. And, honestly, probably not, period.
Why not? Because it takes being a fan to the point of being silly.
Little kids love going to a Toy Story or Star Wars themed place, because they’re little kids. They get to live in a fantasy world. It’s how we allow them safe space in which to grow.
For adults there is such a huge difference between being a fan of something and trying to actually live out that fantasy. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the latter.
At some point, playing let’s pretend (at least in public) seems childish to me.
It does do battle with my libertarian sense of personal sovereignty, which absolutely extends to how you express yourself, or how you play.
So I am conflicted about this, but I think it’s a matter of degree. I see the loving embrace of let’s pretend in far too much of our social diet. Given our supposed post-empirical world, this apparent regress from adulthood alarms me.
Are these the “opiate(s) of the masses” that dull our perception of where we might be headed?
And that, if you hadn’t figured it out already, is the connection.
Simply put, I worry that we’re well into amusing ourselves to death.
Are we “fiddling” while “Rome” burns down around us?
I very much worry that we are.