By nature, talk shows tend to be extensions of their hosts’ personalities, and that fact reveals a lot about why most talk shows end up imploding so spectacularly.
“The Wanda Sykes Show”
Saturdays at 11 p.m.
For example: Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien would be great at hosting a dinner party or a talk show, but it’s hard to think of any situation (talk show or otherwise) that would make anyone want to spend an hour with, say, Chevy Chase circa 1993 or Dennis Miller — former hosts of their own failed talk shows.
To its credit, “The Wanda Sykes Show” certainly gets enough right to avoid a creative-failure implosion trap. The show doesn’t diverge much from the standard talk show format, however — Sykes gives a topical monologue, goes into some pre-taped segments and ends with several celebrity guests.
Sykes essentially brings her stand-up persona to the show and, for the most part, it works well. Her hosting style falls more toward the tangent-prone digressiveness of hosts like Craig Ferguson (“The Late Late Show”) and the loose format plays to her strengths — Sykes is an especially affable host, regularly delivering quips throughout the show and moving things along at a mostly comfortable pace.
The celebrity roundtable makes the most of her style, and it’s one of the show’s best assets. Sykes and a panel of guests — all of whom are provided with copious amounts of booze — talk about various topical events and issues.
The fact that the show combines celebrities, politics and alcohol but produces something that’s not a complete disaster is a remarkable accomplishment. Sykes is a decent moderator, guiding the conversation and keeping the banter lively.
Giving her some these inebriated guests to crack jokes with lends the show a refreshing feeling of unpredictability — there’s never the sense that anyone knows what’s going to happen in the conversation, and the subsequent spontaneity makes the segment especially entertaining.
The show’s oppressively middlebrow focus is its biggest problem, though. For every moment that hits its mark — the first episode featured a clever, if uneven, segment in which Sykes wanted to make her sex toys environmentally friendly — there’s just as many that fall flat.
One of these segments had Sykes making fun of political commentator Ann Coulter’s eyelashes, while another pointed out a supporter mouthing something explicit to President Barack Obama in a video. The segment’s punch line, which dragged on for an interminably long time, consisted of random people green screened into campaign videos making a variety of sexual gestures towards the president.
It’s not as if Sykes isn’t capable of decent political humor. While the pilot’s monologue was forgettable, there later was a solid bit on conservatives wanting to un-elect Obama and calling him a fascist. Sykes, meanwhile, opined on the difficulties of trying to un-elect a fascist. Few of the show’s scripted bits aim that high, though, and the reliance on easy laughs can’t help but feel cheap.
Still, that conflict simultaneously sums up most of the problems and strengths behind “The Wanda Sykes Show.” Within the right venue, Sykes can be an especially sharp comic personality and the show is certainly capable of providing that. The show’s need to balance this out with lowbrow material, though, is what makes “The Wanda Sykes Show” into something that, despite its strengths, feel more inconsistent than it should.