For fans of The Daily Show who have been wondering how they would be spending their late nights after Stephen Colbert shuffled off to CBS, the wait was finally over Monday night. The debut of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (they missed an opportunity by not calling it The Wilmore Repore, if you ask me) showed early indications of a capable replacement for The Colbert Report, albeit one with a Daily Show-esque allegiance to laughs over facts.
The opening segment is a Wilmore-centric gloss on news parody, a genre at which Wilmore and his writing team excel. Like his Daily Show "Senior Black Correspondent" persona, Wilmore the news anchor messes with audience expectations early on by, for example, decrying the Oscar Awards snub, not of Selma, but of The Lego Movie.
One thing that really stood out to me was Wilmore's take on one of the big stories form last week, the Florida SWAT team that was found to be using actual mugshots of black men for target practice. The story became news when Florida National Guard Sgt. Valerie Deant went to use the shooting range after the SWAT team had left, and discovered a bullet-riddled picture of her own brother downrange. In an interview with local NBC reporter Willard Shepard, North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis said that he was "disturbed" that a photo of an area man was use, but explained that the sniper team uses photo arrays of all races for "facial recognition" drills.
Here's how Wilmore handles the story:
"The police in Florida are literally using pictures of young black men as targets! How can we see that and be surprised when it happens in real life? I'm not surprised when Kobe hits a jumper. That dude practices!"
The story is disturbing no matter how you tell it, but the detail about the other photo arrays being used is a pretty important one. Wilmore's premise is that the photo arrays being used are conditioning the shooters to view black men as targets, and not citizens of other races.
On the other hand, maybe they are. The reporter is only shown the master copy of the white male array, and doesn't ask the chief what mix of target arrays is actually used. When I first saw the story last week, my first instinct was "of course you keep a white photo array for when company comes over," but if it only gets used so they can say they used it, where's the comfort in that? Aside from that, given the state of police relations with black communities, both now and historically, what reason does anyone have to believe that Wilmore's gag is off the mark? Hell, if you're a "law-and-order" Republican, why would you want it to be?
The second segment is a Wilmore-led panel discussion that included. for Monday's debut, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), comic Bill Burr, rapper Talib Kweli, and model/actress Shenaz Treasury, and which was the most uneven part of the show. Part of that is surely Wilmore adjusting to the role of host and moderator, but mostly, it seemed like the guests were trying to work in premeditated bits, rather than react spontaneously. The final segment took care of that problem, as Wilmore put each panelist on the spot to "Keep It 100" (percent real) by answering tough questions like, to Booker, "Do you want to be president?"
In their best moments, the panel segments played like a cross between a good Real Time panel and a more erudite Tough Crowd. The looser and more spontaneous it gets, the better the show will be.
Fake newsmen have come under criticism over factual lapses, and have defended themselves with the primacy of the laugh above all else, but the mugshot bit would have been just as funny had it been a few lines longer, and made use of Wilmore's penchant for cutting sarcasm. Shortcuts like this are only going to get The Nightly Showhalf as far, twice as fast.