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‘The Daily Show With Trevor Noah’: Late Night’s ‘New Stepdad’ Makes a Smooth Transition

'The Daily Show With Trevor Noah': Late Night's 'New Stepdad' Makes a Smooth Transition

So “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” turns out to be “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah: New host, new set, even new fonts, but underneath the superficial changes, it felt much like the show Jon Stewart left behind. In his first night on the air, Noah felt not much different from the fill-ins who kept Stewart’s chair warm for him when he got sick or went on sabbatical. He even, like John Oliver before him, spent much of the show’s first act apologizing for Stewart’s absence. Stewart, Noah said, was “our voice, our refuge, and in many ways, our political dad…. Now it feels like the family has a new stepdad, and he’s black — which is not ideal.”

That opening gambit, reprised from last week’s unaired test shows, was deliberately double-edged, both paying homage to Stewart and underlining the fact that Noah is one of exceptionally few people of color hosting a late-night TV show (and, of course, the only one not from the U.S. or England). How that will change “The Daily Show” remains to be seen, but we got a little taste during Noah’s second segment, an exchange with new correspondent Roy Wood, Jr., who is also black. The bit, ostensibly about the discovery of water on Mars, quickly turned into a back-and-forth on desegregation — redlining on the Red Planet. It wasn’t especially sharp, but it was territory largely uncovered on late-night, pointing the way towards places Noah’s “Daily Show” might go that Stewart’s could not.

Noah, who got into hot water shortly after he was picked for the gig for tasteless jokes posted to his Twitter account, showed a few similar lapses of judgment last night — a would-be edgy AIDS joke and another about Whitney Houston and crack cocaine. (When the crowd groaned, Noah smirked, “Too soon?” No, dude — too lame.) But he largely stuck to the established script, showing few signs of nerves — an accomplished understudy, if not yet a role-defining leading man. Noah’s strategy seems to be to learn the ropes of Stewart’s “Daily Show” before aggressively making it his own, which means we may need to wait a few weeks or months to see what Noah’s version really looks like. He’s not even the new stepdad, more like the guy who’s dating your mom and still needs everyone to like him.

Reviews of “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah

James Poniewozik, New York Times

The post-Jon Stewart version of “The Daily Show” that Trevor Noah and Comedy Central unveiled on Monday night was a bit like a new iPhone. It was sleeker, fresher and redesigned. There were tweaks here and there — look, even a new font! But it still does essentially the same thing. Sure, the 31-year-old, South African-born Mr. Noah is a new face and voice. Likening Mr. Stewart to a comedic father, he joked: “Now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he’s black.” Assured, handsome and crisp-spoken, Mr. Noah was a smoother presenter than Mr. Stewart, who made an art form of sputtering and exasperated facepalming. But if Mr. Noah’s debut was largely successful, it was also because of the operating system — the show’s writing — running under the surface. That algorithm, capable of processing a day’s media inputs into a satirically argued package, what makes “”The Daily Show” “The Daily Show.” This first outing was about proving that he could run the software without crashing.

Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

The truth is that “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” was, in most ways, just “The Daily Show,” confirming the futility of trying to review any late-night program, especially one replacing an unimpeachable juggernaut. The best and most honest thing you can say about Monday’s premiere is, “He didn’t break it.” He also didn’t try to.

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

Life is change. Change is hard. Nothing I say about Noah here should be taken as anything more than a first impression. This is just the beginning of what, fingers crossed, will be a long voyage of discovery, and he is not even out of the harbor yet. But he held the wheel steady, the ship did not run aground.

Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture

Noah split the difference between fawning over/canonizing Stewart and putting his hands in his jacket pockets and whistling through a half-hour of basic cable. He structured several bits around anxiety over Stewart’s influence, then waved off any hint of nervousness by grinning or half-smirking through material that was in the same vein as Stewart’s, content-wise. But it was more withering than earnest, and more willing to risk truly giving offense rather than congratulating itself on having done so (a tactic that Stewart’s show used too often, sometimes with a hand-over-mouth Omigod!). Noah compared himself to a black stepdad taking over for a white father who’d deserted his family. “I’ll make you not look like the crazy old dude who ran away and left his inheritance to some kid in Africa,” he promised Stewart. But his demeanor left no doubt that in the end, the new stepdad was going to run the place as he saw fit. As well he ought.

David Sims, The Atlantic

Noah’s opening, in which he paid tribute to Stewart and pledged to continue his “war on bullshit,” was the clunkiest moment precisely because it felt out of sync with the show’s usual rhythms…. But in his delivery of the headline jokes, it was easy to see what must have appealed about Noah to Comedy Central and Stewart from the beginning. Some of the biggest late-night comedians in the game, like Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Fallon, didn’t have that kind of chemistry with the audience from the get-go, and it felt particularly refreshing after the last few years of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” which had seen its host become increasingly bitter and frustrated (while still undoubtedly hilarious) about the news he was covering night after night. Stewart was the angry town crier of cable-news idiocy and he served that office faithfully, but there was a drier, more playful tone to his comedy that had been sanded away by years of worthy outrage; Noah more than anything seems genuinely delighted to have the job and to run with it.

Brian Moylan, Guardian

Noah had an average first night, neither killing it nor completely embarrassing himself. It will take him months to really find his rhythm and must distinguish himself with how he tackles certain key events — something Stewart did with career- and zeitgeist-defining gusto. Those are big shoes to fill, and it’s almost like Noah is too close to Stewart’s style. Many of the same writers remain, and the structures of his jokes — the funny voices, snide asides, tickled bemusement — echo Stewart’s but are delivered differently, with a sneer that made Noah look a bit too amused with himself. Stewart was many things, but he was never smug.

Tim Grierson, Rolling Stone

Perhaps wisely, the producers invited a cream-puff guest for opening night; the host will have a sterner test when GOP presidential candidate (and longtime Stewart whipping boy) Chris Christie drops by the show on Wednesday. But for Night No. 1, Noah succeeded in seeming totally at ease, putting some distance between himself and the controversies from earlier this year while getting his first show under his belt. When he concluded with another sturdy chestnut — yes, there it was, “Your Moment of Zen” — the man behind the desk appeared pretty serene himself.

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