What were Desus Nice and The Kid Mero up to on the premiere of their new weekly late-night talk show on Showtime? Oh, a little of everything: comparing Barack Obama to a Dominican grandfather at a wedding, parodying “Green Book,” critiquing Vladimir Putin’s judo skills, taking a jab at New York sports radio legend-slash-irritant Mike Francesa and talking marginal tax rates with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
So, no, it wasn’t a huge departure from what the duo has been doing for the last two years on Viceland, where their show aired four days a week. And that’s precisely what makes “Desus and Mero” a perfect, much-needed addition to late-night TV — a genre now sufficiently haunted with the ghosts of would-be revolutionaries who never managed to crack the code.
The late-night problem, of course, is that the format doesn’t allow for much creativity. The attempts at departures from the White Man Behind Desk Chatting With Guest on Adjacent Couch™ trope have all felt fairly tepid and uninspired: white man behind desk with no guests, white woman on couch with guests, white woman standing in front of a screen, brown man standing in front of a screen (no disrespect, Hasan, big fan). Much of the appeal of “Desus and Mero” is that it isn’t explicitly promising to turn the medium upside down or to be completely experimental — the two just want to riff a little, laugh a little and maybe talk to some interesting people along the way.
The result is a show that’s completely free of gimmicks or pretensions, essentially just two funny people in freewheeling conversation. They’ve foregone the clunky monologue and house band. Instead, the two begin the show in armchairs on a grunge-cool set, talking about the week’s news — a healthy mix of politics, sports and bizarre internet curiosities — with a few lively pre-taped bits sprinkled in between. Desus and Mero launched their comedy careers as Twitter personalities and that rings true in their humor, which is biting and goofy, manic and irreverent all at once. Clean, smart editing helps the half hour move along at a nimble but comfortable pace (though it does seem a shame this only airs once a week).
That Ocasio-Cortez was the first guest on “Desus and Mero” feels very fitting. The three of them are all up to the same thing right now: bringing their Bronx realness to stodgy institutions and conventions we take for granted. The conversation with her was fun, but sincere and substantive. And with two comedians on either side of her, the congresswoman more than held her own in the laughs department. “How do you have a computer that runs both Windows ’95 and Twitter at the same time?” she wondered aloud about her antiquated meme-making Twitter critics. Later, they played a pre-taped segment of Desus and Mero’s visit to Ocasio-Cortez’s office in Washington D.C. The two came bearing gifts, some Fabuloso all-purpose cleaner, a copy of AM New York and the pièce de résistance: a giant Cardi B wall decal.