Eye of the “Late-Night” Hurricane: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee debuts on TBS (review)

Such is the state of late-night TV in 2016 that of the two best, most necessary must-see programs, one doesn’t air on weeknights, the other isn’t even on in “late-night,” neither airs more than once a week and both owe much to their previous boss, who isn’t on TV now but will be again soon, in one form or another.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver already has won Peabody, Emmy and Writer’s Guild Awards in its first two seasons of Sunday nights on HBO.

Now comes Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, charging into the mockery maelstrom of male-dominated late-night television, even if — airing Monday nights at 10:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on TBS (and Turner’s sister cable stations for tonight’s launch) — she’s asking for our increasingly-divided attention while it’s still primetime.

Bee dispensed with the gender question straight away in the cold open, staged as a press conference, and throwing the reporters a curve ball by suggesting witchcraft helped her get ahead.

For the show itself, perhaps taking a cue from Sheryl Sandberg, Bee leaned in — no desk nor chairs here, thank you very much — delivering pointed punchlines about the presidential campaigns while standing center stage. Of course, she had the same slam-dunk joking points to work with thanks to Saturday night’s Republican debate, what with the botched introduction walk-ons by Ben Carson, Donald Trump and John Kasich and the robotic meltdown by Marco Rubio, and the Jeb! “please clap” moment from earlier last week.

And yet.

Bee proved that you can add new voices to the comedy conversation throughout her debut half-hour. Where else have you heard Hillary Clinton described as “Hermione Clinton,” telling her to “f*** off!” about her claims she didn’t know she’d be running for president, all the while Bee swiveled to camera in diabolical laughter, to boot? Did any of the men in late-night notice how Rubio alleged Clinton favored “due date” abortions, and that that’s not even a thing?! And had anyone considered the feelings of the poor woman married to Ted Cruz? She has a name. It’s Heidi. And she’s not poor because she’s an executive at Goldman Sachs. But leave it to Bee to give us some new appointment viewing.

Bee breathed a sigh of relief that she’s finally back on the air just in time to add her two cents before “the most deranged electoral shitshow in a generation” could pass her by.

In interviews leading up to the premiere, Bee teased an already-filmed trip to Jordan, as well as producing segments from New York Comic-Con (which she taped and screened that October day for the NYCC audience) and uploading clips from test shows to bring her back up to full speed.

Monday’s debut didn’t send Bee (or her husband, Jason Jones, who also has a new TBS show coming in 2016) into the field, although Full Frontal did send a producer out to New Hampshire to look for meaning in the sad-but-truly-puts-the-milk-in-milquetoast saga of the Jeb! Bush campaign, and Bee herself took shots at a Kansas state senator’s male chauvinism in a new recurring segment: Elected Paperweight of the Month.

Bee, like Oliver and Trevor Noah, all received their big breaks on American television thanks to Jon Stewart. Noah, the South African, continues on Comedy Central with a more spry version of The Daily Show; Oliver, the Brit, already has changed hearts, minds and even policies around the world with his HBO show; and now the Canadian-born Bee, thank goodness, has her own perch from which to fly, buzz and sting at will. Stewart, meanwhile, plans to return with his own hybrid HBO digital project, presumably before the 2016 Election has passed him by, too.

Did TBS move Full Frontal into primetime so Bee could shine a half-hour ahead of Conan and her Comedy Central competition, or to keep her away from the crowded field at midnight and @midnight? No matter or doesn’t matter. Either way, we should be grateful TBS has recognized Bee’s greatness and has given her this platform.

We’ll worry about the state of “late-night” TV another day.

(Watch the premiere of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee here at TBS.com, or clips below)

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →