Reviewing late night shows right after they premiere is a difficult task because they, more than any other type of television, take time to grow into their own. Even the most talented hosts have early bumps in the road. It’s hard to be too critical on someone who’s just starting and isn’t used to this format yet. Despite all this, there were moments in the first week of the new “The Daily Show” where Trevor Noah looked actively uncomfortable. His delivery was off, and some of his work didn’t have the sharp wit that landed him the prestigious position of replacing Jon Stewart. However, there were some bright spots in the week. With time, Noah should be able to take what worked, improve what didn’t and spin the show in a direction where he is more comfortable.
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The format of the new “The Daily Show” remains the same: Noah tells jokes at his desk, both on his own and with the correspondents; there are field pieces and an interview in each episode’s third act. Of the desk segments in the premiere week, only a handful worked, with the best ones occurring when Noah let his own voice shine. For example, Thursday’s show opener, where Noah compared Drumpf to an African dictator, showcased Noah’s biting humor and his global perspective (Noah grew up in apartheid South Africa). However, the entire week wasn’t as impressive — a segment on racist police by correspondents Jordan Klepper and Roy Wood Jr. lingered for about twice as long as it should have.
Noah’s biggest weakness in the first week of shows came during the interviews, where he seemed nervous asking questions and couldn’t flesh out substance in the conversations. This was prevalent during his interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While Noah tried to guide the conversation in a more serious direction, he couldn’t negotiate with Christie’s evasiveness. The rest of the week’s interviews were less substantive, with celebrities and CEOs with whom Noah was a bit more relaxed. The one new benefit of Noah’s show is that there will be more music on it, something that was lacking during Stewart’s tenure. Thursday’s episode had Ryan Adams as a musical guest; he played three songs off his Taylor Swift cover album 1989.
The moment most representative of Noah’s timidity in the chair was when he addressed the community college shooting in Oregon. He gave a heartfelt statement, expressing his condolences for the victims, but he didn’t quite go as far as Jon Stewart would have. If it weren’t his first week, maybe he would have given more of a commentary or expressed more of his personal views than he did. What’s nice about the late night format is that Noah will have several months to find his voice and establish himself in the host chair.