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‘Full Frontal With Samantha Bee’ Exposes Late Night’s Freshest Voice

'Full Frontal With Samantha Bee' Exposes Late Night's Freshest Voice

The debut of “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” the “Daily Show” alumna’s new TBS show, was greeted with laughter and applause, but no emotion was stronger than the disappointment that set in when people realized they had to wait a week for the next episode. Airing weekly is Bee’s choice, but 22 minutes every Monday night is going to leave viewers wanting a lot more (which is, needless to say, better than the converse). 

Bee opened the show with a mock press conference in which reporters pelted her with questions about what it’s like to be the only “female woman” in late night, but if she’s weary of answering that question, it’s clear Bee takes that status seriously: She’s hardly the first comedian to ding Republican presidential candidates for their anti-choice stances, but she’s the only one to compare Marco Rubio’s hysterical rhetoric about late-term abortions to the suggestion that women want to “deliver our babies directly into a Vitamix, so Planned Parenthood can sell it to Whole Foods.” With months of campaigning to catch up on, the show’s first segment, which found Bee on her feet rather than desk-splaining, felt awfully cramped, but even the drive-by references to “Hermione Clinton” and Bernie Sanders’ check-please debate gestures drew blood.

An “Elected Paperweight of the Month” segment focusing on Kansas Senator Mitch Holmes, who instituted a dress code for women appearing in front of his legislative committee (men, he said, already know how to look professional), was more righteous than pointed: Bee feels sharper when she’s going after a moving target. But the third, a Werner Herzog-style field piece about the Jeb Bush campaign, was both hilarious and deeply uncomfortable; Herzog parodies may be a dime a dozen, but there’s something particularly fitting about applying the template to Bush’s wandering in the wilderness.

Like any first show, “Full Frontal” demonstrated plenty of kinks that will need to be worked out: Bee’s journey to a 3D version of the show’s logo that doubles as a makeshift podium felt awkward and uncertain, as if she’s not quite ready to abandon the pretense of authority that comes from placing one’s body behind a piece of wood. But for those still missing Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” and pining for the return of “Last Week Tonight,” “Full Frontal” is the show you’ve been waiting for — for months, and possibly a lot longer.

Reviews of “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

Bee addressed her new status as feminist symbol directly and immediately. “Full Frontal” opened with a faux news conference in which every question she was asked included the phrase “as a woman” and she revealed exactly what sort of “magic” is involved in getting a female-led late-night show off the ground.

The very scary kind.

Bee had a field day, and if the targets and tone of her comedy were clearly flavored by her “Daily Show” roots, Bee’s voice is completely her own. Not for her the desk favored by all her male competitors or the couch required by the women of daytime; Bee stands tall like CNN’s John King before his magic screens. She does not care that her red jacket may not have been the best choice for her aggressively purple set. She has better things to do.

Sonia Saraiya, Salon

Bee’s unafraid to go after what is technically her “side” of political debate—whether that’s the Democratic presidential candidates, who are both the subject of her needling, or the members of the press who keep asking her what it’s like to be a woman in late-night comedy. It’s both biting and a bit affectionate; she gets it, but she’s not in the mood for the same old shit. That applies for former Secretary Hillary Clinton trying to mask her ambition for the White House and Senator Bernie Sanders’ almost comical commitment to his old red Chevrolet as a litmus test for his progressivism. It also applies to the (fake) press conference she’s addressing in the cold open, as journalist after journalist quizzes her on her what it’s like to break into the comedy “boys’ club”” or how she handles being a female comedian, or, you know, her “woman-ness.” Bee knows the context, and she’s heard it all before, and she is here to cut through the bullshit. As the butt of that particular joke, it was so aware and real that watching it was both funny and a sudden relief. Like: Yes, this. Someone finally gets it.

James Poniewozik, New York Times

The 2016 presidential campaign has yet to produce a distinctive comedy voice, but Ms. Bee made a bold early case that it could be hers. She took the stage standing — no desk for her — and moved into a caustic, basic-cable-profanity-laced set on the presidential campaigns. The most important thing about the first episode of a political comedy show is to set a tone, and Ms. Bee’s was fiery and fierce — the acid delivery, cut with a touch of Canadian syrup, she honed as a correspondent on “The Daily Show.”

The political topics in the first “Full Frontal” might have been on any late-night show. But Ms. Bee’s feminist perspective showed in the angles that she took — a reel of past election moments included Barack Obama in a 2008 debate, telling Ms. Clinton she was “likable enough” — and in the stories she highlighted, like a Kansas state senator who put in place a dress code for women testifying before his committee.

Would another late-night show have made these points? Sure, maybe, eventually. On “Full Frontal,” though, “eventually” was now.

Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

As was so often the case on “The Daily Show,” it’s great to add Bee to a landscape starved for voices that don’t sound like they’re emerging from different houses on fraternity row, but what cuts through the clutter is intelligence and humor. We’ve only just passed the Iowa Caucuses, but there’s daunting sense that every possible joke had been made about Hillary’s lack of authenticity, Bernie’s avuncular crotchetiness, Rubio’s robotic juvenility, Cruz’s Canadian smarminess and Trump’s repugnant trumpiness, but Bee, backed by EPs Jo Miller and Miles Kahn, came out and laid down 10 minutes of blistering political takes that were originally expressed if not “new.” From “Hermione Clinton” to “Sentient caps lock button, Donald Trump” to announcing “I dislike Ted Cruz as much as the next everyone,” Bee was adding to an already teetering outrage heap, but she was adding gold. Throw in a joke about the introduction-confused Republican leaving an empty podium for Elijah at their recent debate and a riff on Hillary’s ambitious demonic possession (echoing an earlier witchcraft bit) and Bee was hitting targets on both sides of the aisle and hitting hard.

Willa Paskin, Slate

No one seems more delighted to go in than she does. She uses her gender to great comedic effect: The implicit expectation of female politesse heightens her brutal honesty, making it hilarious and slightly surprising, like getting carved up by the unassuming lady on the bus with unexpected knife skills. After airing a clip of Clinton saying, “I never thought I’d be here asking people to vote for me for president,” Bee replied, “Oh, fuck off.” While showing a clip of Ted Cruz talking, Bee readied a noose: The sound of his voice makes her want to hang herself. She shredded Rubio’s comments on abortion, in which he claimed that Clinton supports abortions on the unborn child’s due date. “Uhm, that is literally the stupidest thing I have every heard,” Bee said. “Removing the baby on the due date isn’t an abortion, it’s a cesarean. … Keep telling your cabal of fetus fanatics that Hillary Clinton wants us to carry to term and then deliver our babies directly into a Vitamix, so Planned Parenthood can sell it to Whole Foods.”

Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

Can “Full Frontal” stand out from the late-night pack? On the strength of this premiere, yes. The mono-focus on the election makes it a bit hard to pass a final verdict — what will Bee do when there aren’t a dozen insane Presidential candidates to make fun of? But consider how a throwaway reference to Hillary as “Hermione Clinton” counts as both a lacerating putdown of Clinton’s ambition and high praise for Clinton’s studious workaholism. “Full Frontal” already feels like an essential voice in this political year. We’ve been needing someone who’s this smart and this wacky, someone with the well-honed ability to fire a chaingun array of zingers that can all hit their marks with sniper precision. And she happens to be a female woman? That’s cool, too.

Ken Tucker, Yahoo

Bee’s point of view is essentially a kind of savage humanism, in which a description of Heidi Cruz as “Ted Cruz’s wife-and-possible-hostage” is at once cutting and sympathetic. If Bee can sustain the tone she presented in this premiere episode, “Full Frontal” is going to be an exhilarating pleasure.

David Sims, The Atlantic

It’s hard to agree that the late-night landscape was calling out for yet another topical news/comedy show, but as crowded as the genre is, Samantha Bee is the first truly interesting thing to happen to it for quite a while. That it took this long for a network to hire a woman is nothing more than predictable, but it stings all the more when you watch “Full Frontal” and remember that she’s been doing this for years, spending all of that time at the top of her game. Bee started the show with a joking segment about how she got the gig, which cut to an elaborate sequence of witchcraft and human sacrifice, putting the obvious jokes to bed within the first two minutes. Then she went about showing viewers just how she really got hired—by being one of the best late-night comedians in the business.

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