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‘Vice News Tonight’ Review: No Anchor, No News Desk, No Revolution

Vice's nightly news program promises "the first modern news show," but its series premiere simply catered to short attention spans.

Vice News Tonight Claire Wood in Canada Season 1

Jerry Ricciotti for VICE News/HBO

No time for the news? Then “Vice News Tonight” is for you.

While not as catchy as “the first modern news show,” the above tagline could certainly apply to the premiere episode of “Vice News Tonight.” Moving along at rapid speed with constantly shifting graphics, HBO’s debut half-hour glazed over most of its content in favor of covering a wide swath of topics. So fast were the reports thrown at the audience, “Vice News Tonight” didn’t even have time for an anchor. No one sat behind a desk. No one cracked wise. And no revolution occurred.

…yet.

READ MORE: John Oliver Takes on Guantánamo in ‘Last Week Tonight’ Screed About the Controversial Military Prison — Watch

To be fair, “Vice News Tonight” — despite a name with a similar ring to “Last Week Tonight” — is not trying to be funny. In the modern news world, there remains a void Jon Stewart once filled with an educational and entertaining nightly show, but this HBO offering isn’t trying to replace “The Daily Show.” (Perhaps Stewart’s upcoming effort will.) What it is trying to do is speak to millennials in their own language. While “Vice News Tonight” may offer insufficient information on its own, the program’s first run functioned like a bunch of casually stitched together YouTube videos, and ViceNews.com — revamped and released in time for the series premiere — was the click-through option for anyone curious about one of the nine stories included.

Of course, even HBO NOW viewers couldn’t literally click on their screens to see more of a story. That might be a revolution. But there are written stories online with graphics, photos and more waiting for anyone interested in Vice’s “exclusive” Wells Fargo story or who want to know more about the latest presidential debate’s overnight star, Ken Bone. As a service, “Vice News Tonight” could offer the whole package (assuming you can buy into their comfortably egotistical style), but only when combined with the website.

READ MORE: How To Survive the 2016 Election — With TV!

The show itself is a bit of a mess. Large on-screen print sliding rapidly offscreen replaced any sort of central guiding figure, and while the attempt to smooth over jarring shifts between topics with animation and pulsing music worked so-so for a debut outing, the final effect was a bit discombobulating. One of the benefits of having an anchor is that he or she can anchor the show — bringing it back to center after a striking story (like the reports of a prison strike in Alabama) and smoothly transitioning into softer material (like the pointless Glenn Beck interview and an already dated segment called “Yesterday On the Internet”). “Vice News Tonight” lacked cohesiveness, which is a bigger problem for a show packed with so much Attitude (with the capital “A”).

We’ll see how the series adjusts, or if it feels the need to, in the future. Youths with short attention spans may appreciate the lack of filler — what traditionalists may refer to as “tact” — and, considering how so many modern news hosts, from Brian Williams to Matt Lauer, keep tarnishing their programs with individual mistakes, there could be something to running a news show sans one central identity.

For those willing to watch HBO and then head over to ViceNews.com, perhaps “Vice News Tonight” could serve its purpose as a full-service “modern” news destination. But by airing nothing but special reports, “Vice News Tonight” is nothing special (yet).

Grade: B-

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