Since its premiere last year, “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” has been killing it — and while Bee and her staff were recognized last year at the Emmys with a nomination for writing, this year one of television’s most fiercely political series deserves far more appreciation.
This isn’t to undersell the work of showrunner Jo Miller and Bee’s talented writers. In fact, it’s worth noting that Bee is the kind of host who doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with other talent, letting correspondents like Ashley Nicole Black and Amy Hoggart contribute segments either in studio or from the field. (Another host demonstrating the same sort of class: Seth Meyers, who has let staff writers Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel basically steal the show from time to time.)
And perhaps she’s so comfortable with that notion because, as we wrote last year, Bee’s confidence as a host is apparent from the first few seconds of each episode, as she strides out to a cheering audience for a series of monologues performed standing up, with no desk separating her from the crowd.
Late night television has always been a bit of a boy’s club, a fact that Bee has never shied away from acknowledging with hilarious feminist rage:
That’s why perhaps it’s a good thing that Bee has an opportunity to win some Emmy gold in more than one category. Beyond the Variety Talk category, Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” was a brilliant hour-long special that deserves recognition in the Best Variety Special category — and honestly, probably deserves to win it.
This is a category that’s always been both eclectic when it comes to its nominees as well as its winners, and there’s even precedent of a talk show special winning the award: Somehow, James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” beat Beyonce’s groundbreaking “Lemonade” in the category last year.
The idea behind Bee’s “Dinner” came after it became apparent that Donald Trump’s election would cast a pall over the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Granted, that wasn’t the most important question America faced at the moment (because, you know, the country had just elected Donald Trump as President), but the time-honored tradition of both American politics and American journalism now felt deeply uncomfortable in light of the current administration’s hostile attitude toward the free press.
Hence the “Full Frontal” team’s decision to create an alternative event.
The “Full Frontal” team offered up a non-sanctioned roast of the current administration, one that was more inventive, clever, tough and brilliant. Bee, to borrow a phrase from the kids, simply slayed, while also bringing a level of artistry to this special that might have been unanticipated.
The most memorable bit remains the “Man in the High Castle”-themed look at what might have happened had Hillary Clinton won the election, and Bee was hosting the WHCD in her honor. (A bold move invoking an Amazon Prime series that has never shown any signs of mainstream viewership.)
Here’s what’s remarkable about the bit: Dense with jokes aimed directly at political junkies, it’s not a happily-ever-after sort of alternate future, as alternate universe Bee digs into the investigations launched against Clinton by congressional Republicans. There are bright spots, but also plenty of reminders that Clinton wasn’t a perfect candidate, and if she had won, her administration would have been constantly attacked by Republicans, even over the most basic humanitarian issues.
“Not the White House Correspondents Dinner” was also for a good cause — the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization desperately needed more than ever, received $200,000 from the event. Beyond fancy guest stars like Will Ferrell, the special proved its value by reminding Americans that the concept of a free press is in danger. Late night television relies on accurate news reporting, especially the shows which aren’t afraid of digging into today’s news to try to find both comedy and truth.
Samantha Bee has been rocking that equation lately. And if Emmys voters aren’t paying attention, in whatever category they might choose, they need to get their eyesight checked.