Sunday, August 9, 2015

Brian Unger on The Daily Show

I watched Jon Stewart's final Daily Show as it aired on the West Coast. Then, as often happens when I get lost in a big moment, something that touches me deeply, I went online to see what other people were thinking. As often happens when I do that, I wound up disappointed by, first, the sameness of so many pieces, and second, how far I diverged in my assessment from what many others thought.

For me, the high point of the episode was the opening bit. Seeing former correspondent after former correspondent make his or her way into camera range was catnip to this sentimental fool, and I freely admit, I teared up a few times. That said, it wasn't perfect. I wish Aasif Mandvi and John Hodgman had gotten more to do. (This is of a piece with my feeling that they were woefully underused during their tenures on the show.) John Oliver's egg-sandwich bit fell flat except for the punchline. But Stephen Colbert, thankfully, delivered a pitch-perfect performance in both the scripted and unscripted parts. The rest of the episode, frankly, I could have missed, especially since I'm neither a Goodfellas nor a Springsteen fan.

Most of the people who like Stewart and who have an established platform, like the Huffington Post, on which to write, loved the whole thing from beginning to end. That's fine (lots of Goodfellas and Springsteen fans out there and more power to them), but the adulation given to the "bullshit" monologue is undeserved. The monologue pretty much summed up what Stewart has been railing against almost from the day he started, but for that very reason, it was superfluous and too damned long. We all know what bullshit is: we didn't need a taxonomy.

In retrospect, I wonder if Stewart felt he needed to say all that because he knows Trevor Noah will be moving away from calling out cable news, and Fox News in particular, for hypocrisy and outright lying. It would then be up to the rest of us, including himself, to follow his closing admonition: "If you smell something, say something", because The Daily Show with Trevor Noah wouldn't be doing that any more.

In what has been the only truly interesting piece on the subject that I've found, Brian Unger described the first incarnation of The Daily Show and explained why a new direction post-Jon Stewart is needed.

In 2015, when so few people actually watch live TV on broadcast or cable, raging at cable news can feel like kicking a dead horse.

John Oliver and Bill Maher have demonstrated this transcendence. Their shows rarely, if ever, include outrageous clips from cable news and are less ripped-from-the-headlines. They cover a spectrum of stories from less mainstream sources, most of them unrelated to media, and closer to a topic or issue itself. And so Trevor Noah and his producers, too, will have to evolve The Daily Show. They’ll have to wrap their satirical arms around an even vaster flood of news and information, most of it untelevised, on the Web, social media, and beyond.

Unger is a smart guy: his whole piece is filled with insights like this. Read it.

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