Will “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” become a cultural institution? Don’t pick up your party hats just yet. This is not “The Colbert Report,” and we have a feeling it will never be. Wilmore is not out to coin crazy phrases or form a Super PAC on his show. He also seems to be reasonably less interested in being completely over the top or “in character.”
What Wilmore does have is charm, humor, and intelligence molded into a half-hour show. He is less like Jon Stewart and in some ways more like Bill Maher. The first edition of his Comedy Central series suffered in spots (a particularly overused Martin Luther King Jr. Day joke at the beginning is one), but there were flashes of brilliance that showed us the good fortune we have that the network had such a qualified man in their roster already.
Wilmore wasted little time reminded us of his pre-show mantra that this show was about the underdog, taking us through stories about black protests, the Academy Awards, and comparing Al Sharpton to “Black Batman” for the way in which he consistently jumps aboard every single social cause that he feels his worth his time. The best of all this is that like Stewart and another former “Daily Show” colleague in John Oliver, Wilmore used logic as an ally. He does need to tell you that singling out black men by police is wrong; he can show you with evidence, and comment in a way that stimulates your mind and your funny bone. The first eight minutes of the series were outstanding, nonstop comedy.
Then, the panel happened. This, along with the extremely long table and the awkward structure of the set (it feels like something out of “Anchorman”) need to be either surgically repaired or removed altogether. The panel ventured the show too far into Bill Maher territory. With respect to Bill Burr and Senator Cory Booker, we watch the show for Wilmore’s perspective. Reducing the number of guests increases the number of times in which a verse is heard. We would far prefer one or two guests to a full panel so that it feels less like a game of hot-late-night-potato and more like an intense discussion, one that happens to be told in between two commercial breaks in a short period of time.
While somewhat grim, Wilmore then brought it home again in the closing minutes with some more humor, but also a few reminders about what a wrongfully-skewed world we sometimes live in.
“The Nightly Show” is probably not the right venue if you want pure, silly comedy. Go watch “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” or “The Late Show” instead. Wilmore may even be too high-brow and smart to even have this show be a runaway hit. Regardless, one episode in we greatly appreciate that this show is here, and that there is something new to enjoy at 11:30 p.m. at night. Comedy Central still needs to work out the rough edges, but they have replaced one original with another. Grade: B+.
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