“The Late Late Show with James Corden” — “This is not a country that feels afraid.”
As Corden explains, this solemn intro to an episode is one that he and many other hosts have had to deliver far too many times in recent years. But when the week that “The Late Late Show” made a Transatlantic trip to London coincided with a terror attack on London Bridge, Corden delivered a steadfast opening. “We’re going to bring you the silliest, stupidest, most fun-packed shows we’ve ever made,” Corden said. Sometimes, that’s exactly what everyone needs.
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” — The “‘The Putin Interviews’ Oliver Stone” Interview
It’s not the funniest or the most viral or the most essential segment of the “Late Show” in 2017, but Colbert’s interview with Oliver Stone is perhaps the strongest case study for what late night TV is in 2017. When confronted with an interview subject speaking glowingly about a foreign adversary, Colbert’s internal and external wrestling with how best to approach the situation made for one of the rare late night interviews that could actually make news on its own. Opting not for out-and-out dismissal and trying for reasoned discussion, the cognitive dissonance between Stone and the host made for an indicative example of how people today can live inside fundamentally different ways of seeing the world.
“The Opposition with Jordan Klepper” — Calories. So Many Calories.
An Alex Jones parody may be a tougher sell on a nightly basis than the other shows in its timeslot, but few segments got to the heart of the surreal political climate better than watching Klepper try to down roughly 30,000 calories in between commercial breaks. All of the anguish, the pain, and the barely stifled laughter, with Tim Baltz to calmly narrate through the chaos — it’s basically 2017 in a nutshell.
“The President Show” — A Kubrick Odyssey
Setting aside the long take fire truck nostalgia clip from the show’s opening, few segments are able to show the series’ willingness to embrace insanity better than this Stanley-inspired mindtrip. Prying any amount of enjoyment out of the year’s dire headlines has been a feat in and of itself, but kudos to the entire “President Show” team involved in this for being able to craft something so daft and true to its inspirations. Absurd times call for absurd ideas, and this is one answer that few other shows could make.
“Problematic with Moshe Kasher” — A Conversation About Islamophobia
The late-night boom in recent years has given a number of individuals the chance to lead their respective shows in their own voice. The best episode of “Problematic” found host Moshe Kasher using his half hour as a chance to talk about Islamophobia at various levels of American life. After a discussion with Amna Nawaz, Reza Aslan, and Maz Jobrani about being Muslim in America, Hasan Minhaj shared his own story about living in a post-9/11 world. Combining respect with a little irreverence, it’s the kind of spirit that led to the first season’s standout moments.
“The Rundown with Robin Thede” — Russia and Black Fist
Russia was understandably a large point of focus for late night shows in 2017. But no show looked at it in the way that Robin Thede and “The Rundown” did, by looking at how the same international actions that sought to sow divisiveness in the 2016 election has extended into trying to drive racial animosity as well. Also addressing some of the direct-targeting issues that have plagued multiple social media platforms this year, it’s a segment that lets Thede play to her strengths as a host while delivering a familiar story from a fresh angle.
“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” — Sarah Paulson’s Holly Hunter
This one literally speaks for itself, right up through her Kathleen Turner-inspired delivery of “crocodile mile.” It’s some the most impressive mid-impression mouth muscle work of the year (right up with Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions).
“Truth & Iliza” — Well, What Can We Say?
Kicking off a new weekly show is really hard. The pressure to make an opening statement that encapsulates the series and lays the groundwork for everything that comes after it is a daunting task. But a monologue capped off by assembling the desk on stage, thematic talks with a “Drag Race” star, and paving the way for “Tiny Bites” is as good a debut as a late-night show had in 2017.
“Watch What Happens Live” — Patti Freaking LuPone
The greatest thing that Patti LuPone did this year is “Remember That We Suffered.” The second greatest thing that Patti LuPone did this year is this defiant interview with Andy, topped off by a single, ruthless dismissal. Do not cross Patti LuPone because Patti LuPone will weird the sword of truth with joyful abandon.