When Jon Stewart left the desk of The Daily Show in August of 2015, the vacant hosting job was neither discussed with, nor offered to, Samantha Bee, The Daily Show’s longest tenured correspondent. Bee ended up leaving the show, along with several other veteran correspondents, allowing everyone to get what they want: The Daily Show got a fresh restart under Trevor Noah and a cast of young correspondents, and Bee and other departing cast members got to pursue post-Daily Show projects. But several months into Noah’s turn at the helm of The Daily Show and several weeks into Bee’s new TBS show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, one thing is becoming clear: The Daily Show should have made an offer to Bee.
Away from the sometimes rigid format of The Daily Show, Bee has designed a faster-paced, harder hitting, more energetic show. It seems clear that she’s drawn from the success of other The Daily Show alums, most notably John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on HBO. Like Oliver’s show, Bee’s airs only once a week, allowing for better jokes packed tightly together. Also like Oliver, who rarely features guests and only in connection to a story, Bee is foregoing the usual parade of celebrities, authors, and politicians who are a nightly fixture on The Daily Show. This seems like a smart move, particularly for a once-weekly show. The interviews on The Daily Show are almost always the weakest segment, increasingly so under the consistently awkward Noah. Bee is trimming the fat and allowing her razor sharp criticisms to take center stage. And borrowing another page from the John Oliver playbook, almost all of Full Frontal’s content is available on YouTube, so you don’t need a cable or Hulu plus subscription to get in on the fun. It airs on TBS at 10:30/9:30 Central normally.
This show will not be for everyone though. The entire crowd of politically driven comedy shows has a distinct liberal bent, even extending as far as Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. Sure, Bee and others in the genre will take a shot across the bow of a Democrat that makes an objectively stupid statement. But Bee’s critiques of Republicans are several magnitudes of order more frequent and biting. It seems safe to say that the harder you lean left, the more you will love Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. The harder you lean right, the more you will dislike it. She’s not really attempting to play to the other side.
On The Daily Show, new host Trever Noah habitually laughs off his own “harshest” jokes, as if the politician in the cross-hairs was in the room somewhere and Noah wanted to make sure they weren’t offended. He seems to want to get along with everybody, and in interviews he rarely asks tough questions or presses for responses to them. When things do get tense, Noah typically cracks a joke, releases the pressure, and everybody gets off the hook. Longtime fans of The Daily Show are unaccustomed to, and unaccepting of, Noah’s almost apologetic style after years of watching Jon Stewart artfully craft withering critiques of even our highest leaders and then deliver them with a straight, almost solemn, face. Similarly, Bee has shown no interest in playing nice with everyone; her style is direct and pointed. Nor has she indicated she will shy away from controversial topics. In her first few weeks she’s hit on Syrian refugees, Antonin Scalia’s death, dress codes for female politicians, and abortion. Bee is in a unique position to be the standard bearer on women’s rights for the political comedy genre. And thus far she seems more than up to the task, attacking tough and often taboo issues with confidence bordering on (refreshing) ferocity.
If you’ve been watching The Daily Show in the Noah-era and are just tuning into Full Frontal, the contrast between the two shows will hit you immediately, despite the heavy overlap in subject matter. Noah, the rookie on the old show, is nearing the end of his grace period with the fans. The expectation is that by now he should have assimilated into the The Daily Show anchor role and effortlessly added his own very unique worldview. But thus far most of what has been delivered by Noah is an iteration of his stand-up act, fragmented and inserted into any and all scenarios (after six months, we get it, things are different in Africa) whether it works or not. The clever writing is still there, but it struggles to be heard through Noah’s often clunky delivery. Bee, the veteran on the new show, seems to know exactly what she wants to do with her opportunity: finally be in charge and take center stage to unleash a decade of built up snark that was often a bit too in-your-face to air at her old job. Fans of pre-Noah The Daily Show will find Full Frontal with Samantha Bee to be a bold reminder of what the new iteration of The Daily Show is missing.