There’s something super-duper flashy about the look and structure of “Raising McCain,” which is constantly in motion. Meghan McCain’s new series run-skips from format to format and style to style — it’s a talk show, but then it’s a newsmagazine, but then it’s a celeb-reality-com, but then it’s none of them entirely. It’s a genre-buster of a half-hour, defying easy labeling in the same way McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain, hopes to avoid getting pigeonholed as a traditional Republican.
But underneath the lively shape-shifting surface, there are just new depths of irritation waiting to be plumbed. There are banal insights on issues such as privacy, feminism, and sex. There are forced cutesy sidebars about a mounted deer head named George Jones and faux creative images of McCain holding a camera and filming the person she’s talking to. There are “F” words all over McCain’s dialogue, as she strains to prove that she is cool. There are endless vanity shots of her and her peeps — including her brother Jimmy — that remind us of what the show really is: One big TV selfie.
And there are annoyingly forced generalizations about “our generation,” as the 28-year-old puts it. The show is on a new network called Pivot that is targeting millennial viewers, loosely defined as people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. So McCain aggressively presents herself as the voice of her generation, an immodest stance that is almost always unattractive when self-declared. “Does our generation think differently about sex and objectification,” she asks at one point in episode 2, which is a mess about whether a woman can be sexy and a feminist at the same time. It’s an unintentionally cringy and facile half-hour, which leads to Meghan telling Jimmy that their mother, Cindy, is “the greatest politician’s wife in the history of the free world.”
The first episode, which premieres on Saturday at 10 p.m., shows a hint of promise. Early on, McCain says she doesn’t much care about privacy. By the end, after journalist Michael Moynihan shows her how easily he can track her activity, she recognizes the dangers of unwanted surveillance. Her shift in perspective is gimmicky, but that’s to be expected on a show that isn’t presenting itself as hard journalism. She has a change of heart, and even if it has been simulated it’s still halfway interesting. But by the time McCain is taking on feminism in the second episode, pretending to immerse herself in research, “Raising McCain” seems pointless and hollow.
There are comparisons to be made between McCain and Lena Dunham, who is 27 and often made into a voice of her generation — a phrase that she mocks on her HBO show, “Girls.” Both like the sound of their own voices, both share more personal information than is appealing. But Dunham’s comedy is about how troubled and unbound her character is. She is not looking to be taken too seriously; she’s offering up a kind of cringe humor with dramatic elements. McCain doesn’t have any of that redeeming self-irony. Her persona is more inflated, more self-important.
It’s admirable that McCain is interested in issues, that she wants to be substantive, that she has a political awareness. Lurking somewhere inside her, she probably has the raw makings of a newsmagazine host. But on “Raising McCain,” she’s too much like a too-fabulous reality star, rolling with her fawning employees, bringing her poorly defined, from-the-hip brand to the masses.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.