The phrase “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” instantly comes to mind upon reading Busy Philipps’s (“I Feel Pretty”) filmography. She has built a lengthy and impressive career playing the best friend or another member of the ensemble. Despite being featured in movies and television now considered pop culture milestones like “White Chicks” or “Freaks and Geeks,” she has never helmed her own vehicle, which is why it seemed so unexpected, yet slightly intriguing that she would be given the opportunity to host a talk show.
In hindsight, “Busy Tonight” has many elements that should have assured its success. The title is snappy, Tina Fey is credited as an executive producer and it faces little to no competition in inheriting the female late night talk show throne that Chelsea Handler so recently abdicated. The only problem that presented itself is Philipps’s occupation in a weird purgatory of Hollywood. She is not an unknown, nor is she a household name. Thus, she is familiar enough to be recognizable, but unfamiliar enough that it is easy to question why one would tune into her, of all people, every night.
This issue did not have to be a dealbreaker, as Philipps’s relative obscurity could have been used as a means to introduce her show — as well as herself — to the world on her own terms. But, instead of gently wading into the pool, “Busy Tonight” cannonballs in, almost giving viewers whiplash with how strong its host comes across. Through her numerous half-baked (and frankly, forced) references to self-care, margaritas and feminism that feel ripped from some boring 30-something’s Pinterest board, Philipps does not come across as a relatable host, but rather as an actress doing a bad job with a character piece.
To clarify, it is important to acknowledge the difficulty in beginning a new talk show. When one becomes accustomed to long-running hosts, gimmicks, sets and other standards of a show, it is easy to critique aspects that make a show appear to be fledgling. In addition to the audience’s perception of a show, it is also grueling for the people behind the scenes to find a niche and develop a tone. While “Busy Tonight” definitely suffers from the regular growing pains of a new television show (like a low-budget title sequence and a closing musical number that enticed me to throw my computer at the television), its central problem is a simple lack of entertainment value.
The very brief 20-minute stretch of the program quickly felt like pulling teeth, as there were many elements that simply felt purposeless. For example, at the beginning of each episode, Philipps begins a conversation with her writers, who are sitting nearby in the studio audience. These exchanges are played off as “improvisational,” yet feel as forced as a fourth grader reading from their new knock-knock joke book. Making matters worse, these moments are not blips in the episode, and the bits last for far too long, quickly veering into awkward territory.
This stark lack of entertainment value also expands into the celebrity interview segment as well. Rather than prompting the stars with questions that will launch them into a funny anecdote about their lives or the project they are promoting, Busy, in a clear attempt to maintain the phony “chill” vibe of the show, just carries on a normal conversation with them. This, in itself, is not a terrible idea. However, the idea does not translate well, as the conversations lack any semblance of direction, and the only topics that seem to be game for discussion are Coachella, SoulCycle, margaritas and crying. For someone that starred in “White Chicks,” she should have better awareness of when she is coming across as a grating stereotype. In addition to the uninspired talking points, Philipps herself is not the best interviewer. For example, in her interview with Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Philipps fails to facilitate a natural conversation, and opts to interrupt her guest at numerous points throughout the interview, as well as consistently re-center herself as the subject of conversation.
As evidenced in the past with other talk show flops, “Kris” and “The Queen Latifah Show,” not everyone is cut out to be a talk show host. After watching the first four episodes, it is clear that the issues with “Busy Tonight” will not be solved in due time. Lack of charm cannot be as easily remedied as someone simply forgetting their cues. As much as I hoped for this to be a career-making highlight in Philipps’s career, it seems as though this is going to be one that she buries and tries to forget. I know I want to.