Thanks to Netflix, Amazon et al., there’s an entire generation for whom the phrase “Tune in next week for the next exciting episode of” is as alien as an ashtray on a restaurant table or a bipartisan political issue. Yet both of the streaming giants are now investing in shows that follow the traditional broadcasting model of asking users to come back every week/month to check out a new episode.
Amazon led the way with its “Top Gear” knockoff, “The Grand Tour.” And now Netflix subscribers are starting to see a gradual increase in the number of shows with the words “New Episode” festooned across their homepage.
You may have already seen Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” and “The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale.” Now, fresh from her headline-generating stint as host of this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner (two words to trigger your memory: “Smoky eye”), Netflix has given Michelle Wolf her own weekly show: “The Break with Michelle Wolf,” with a new episode dropping every Sunday.
I’ve been a fan of Wolf’s for a while now, thanks mainly to her acerbic guest slots on “The Daily Show” (her HBO special from earlier this year, “Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady,” is the perfect introduction if you’re not familiar with her work). She’s a ballsy comedian, unafraid to offend – as demonstrated by her correspondents’ dinner speech in which she basically destroyed everyone in the room. And while everyone remembers her comment about lies and Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ eyes, for me it was her snarky lines about Megyn Kelly that really hit home (“What would I do without Megyn Kelly? Probably be more proud of women. Megyn Kelly got paid $23 million by NBC, then NBC didn’t let her go to the Winter Olympics. She’s so white, cold and expensive, she might as well be the Winter Olympics”).
Two episodes in, I don’t think “The Break” has quite done justice to Wolf’s talents yet, but it’s definitely a show I’ll be sticking with. “I’m not gonna try to teach you anything or discuss political policy with you. I guess I’m kind of like a cable news show in that way,” she deadpans early on in the first, weaker episode.
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Straight off the bat, she apologizes for her screechy voice (“Yes, this is my real voice, so I’d like to welcome you and, I’m assuming, your dogs”). If you haven’t heard it before, it can take some getting used to – let’s just say NPR was never likely to return her calls.
The weird thing about “The Break” is that it positions itself as an antidote to the week’s news, yet then spends the best part of 30 minutes riffing on topical events. It’s basically “The Daily Show” or “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” but without the lame interview where some actor or author is hawking a product. Instead, Wolf concludes with segments with colleagues from former shows, like Amber Ruffin from Meyers’ show and Neal Brennan from “The Daily Show.”
In the second episode (which aired June 3), there’s a segment on Roseanne Barr in which Wolf jokes: “Kudos to ABC. It takes a lot of courage to fire someone after they’ve been openly racist for the thousandth time. You can replace her show with something less offensive, like ‘Juber’ – a show where Mel Gibson screams at Uber drivers he thinks are Jewish.”
Wolf is an unapologetically female voice in a male-dominated genre, as witnessed by a segment in the first show where she and Ruffin (often the funniest voice on Meyers’ show) riff on why they don’t ever want a baby. Sitting together on a couch, Ruffin says: “I had a friend who told me that after she had her baby, the size and shape of her nipples changed.” To which Wolf responds, “No thank you! I like my nipples in their current shape – a rhombus!”
“The Break” doesn’t reinvent the wheel and, in fact, its one real invention – a DJ in the background instead of a house band – should probably be jettisoned. But Wolf is a comedy voice worth listening to, especially when she goes for the jugular, even if you may need to turn the volume down just a tad. Oh, and she also discusses that Huckabee Sanders comment, quipping, “For the record, that was not a looks-based joke. That was about her ugly personality.”
As I scanned through the 342 shows on my Netflix watch list this week (OK, I’m exaggerating; 340), I saw that a new episode of “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” had dropped – this one an hour-long interview with the original shock jock himself, Howard Stern.
If you’ve not seen “My Next Guest,” it serves as a nice reminder of why Letterman is still revered by so many in the TV industry. Even though he looks like a cross between an Amish minister and a member of ZZ Top, Letterman has basically persuaded Netflix to give him the keys to a theater and unfettered access to a film crew and guests of his choosing.
It’s a simple but winning formula – especially when the guests are as entertaining as Stern and the previous guest, Tina Fey. They both share great Trump anecdotes, each of which – you will not be surprised to learn – make Trump sound incredibly sleazy. (I’ll give you one of them: He rates daughter Ivanka as a “10.”)
Letterman isn’t the kind of interviewer who can wheedle information out of a circumspect guest (like former President Barack Obama, who started the season in a rather dull manner). But he’s in his element here, talking with entertainers he admires.
Stern is the perfect talk-show guest, of course – happy to overshare about his Jewish upbringing in Roosevelt, Long Island in the 1960s. This included a father who grew angry when young Howard said he was going to be a millionaire one day (“How dare you say this! You can’t even mow the lawn!”); his mother’s reaction when Stern Jr. said he wanted a copy of Playboy for his 13th birthday (too good to spoil here); and why his sister didn’t feature in his 1997 biopic “Private Parts” (“I just don’t remember you being there,” was Stern’s honest answer to his sibling at the film’s premiere).
An hour spent in these two aging men’s company is great fun, with the duo openly discussing their rivalry (not so much a rivalry, in fact, as out-and-out hatred by Stern, who admits that rage fueled his earlier years). It’s fascinating to hear him reflect on how psychotherapy turned his life around. He also talks lovingly about his three daughters (all from his failed first marriage) and, for all of his outrageous anecdotes, the most shocking piece of information is when he reveals that his eldest daughter is training to be a rabbi.
“My Next Guest” is actually a perfect fit for Netflix, since there are no ad breaks and no need to chase ratings (and the website is probably so thrilled to have coaxed Letterman out of “retirement,” it is only too happy to allow him to look like a latter-day Howard Hughes). Amid the clamor of shows competing for your attention, this is a quiet, unassuming show that is well worth listening out for.