Arts

television review

Going live was a mixed bag, but late-night shows were the break we needed

Last night’s string of live late-night shows began at 11 with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.”
Sean Gallagher/file
Last night’s string of live late-night shows began at 11 with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.”

During her visit to last night’s live episode of “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” Soledad O’Brien expressed what many of us were feeling after midnight on election night, having watched hours of pre-results TV blather. Shrugging off the expert panels that take over cable news channels, she said, “They’re just filling time.”

Indeed, the news channels cleared their throats for hours, with over-lit, poufy-haired commentators struggling to get a word in edgewise — and then having absolutely nothing to say. It was, as the subtitle of last night’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live! Live” put it, “Night of a Million Graphs.” Early in the night, say around 7:30, I’d already begun to pity poor Wolf Blitzer, running all over the aggressively colored CNN stage set, and the map maniac-in-chief John King, whose every single projection had this qualification: It’s still too early to say.

So by the time 11 p.m. arrived, even with actual results rolling in, the need for relief was pressing. Sometimes, you just want to hear TV figures speak in natural voices, like real people instead of broadcast-bots. For that reason alone, last night’s string of live late-night shows — beginning at 11 p.m. with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” – was a welcome option. Welcome for Democrats, that is; TV’s late-nighters have no ethical obligation to appear objective, and so they didn’t.

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The live ventures included a few taped segments — B-copy is the deadline journalist’s friend — including “Daily Show” interviews with those choosing not to vote. Another taped “Daily Show” piece beautifully nailed the media’s clear affection for Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. On CBS, Stephen Colbert opened “The Late Show” with a less successful taped bit, a song comparing the country to a sinking submarine. “We may collapse from all the pressure,” he sang in grand Broadway style, “but if we do at least we’ll all crumble together.” Not his best musical moment.

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Kimmel leaned particularly hard on prepared material — on-the-street interviews telling people Kid Rock had won the Michigan Senate race, goofing on the cable channels with a “Mega Micro Map” and a “Wall of Wolf Blitzers,” and a visit from the ghost of George Washington, played by Fred Willard. (Despite the show’s title, “Jimmy Kimmel Live” is typically taped.) His interview with Sacha Baron Cohen — Cohen’s first since his “Who Is America?” Showtime series aired over the summer — was enjoyable, as Cohen told backstage stories about the show, but there was no reason for it to be broadcast live. Ditto Cohen’s clip as Borat, going door-to-door in an LA neighborhood to talk politics with unsuspecting residents.

But still, the hosts — even Kimmel — also riffed off the results available to them at airtime. On “The Daily Show,” Noah celebrated the election of the country’s first openly gay governor and Congress’s first two female Muslims and first two Native American women (with an Elizabeth Warren joked tucked in there). He also announced Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s victory over O’Rourke to boos. He talked with Jamil Smith about Andrew Gillum’s loss in the Florida governor’s race, and the public’s “discomfort with black leadership.” Comic Ron Wood Jr., sitting in with Noah, humorously noted that President Trump was celebrating Democratic victories in the House — with a “cheeseburger a la mode” — because now he has a scapegoat: “When all of his policies go wrong,” Wood said, “he has someone to blame.”

Colbert got in a few good improvised riffs, too, such as “By not being Ted Cruz, Beto is still a winner.”

And “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” with the benefit of an extra hour of voting results, took advantage of being live. Guest Billy Eichner was a burst of partisan positivity and celebration, despite the mixed messages and split decisions of the midterms. “Let’s be happy for five minutes,” he said, noting that the Democrats had won the House and that the Texas race had been close.

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Would viewers’ time have been better spent watching the straight news? Nah. With these live shows offering some comic relief, we could sit back and take a break from blinding graphs, deafening opinions, and a micro-micro-view of Florida.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.