I love Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal so much, that as a cable cutter I’ve paid for two seasons on iTunes already. (You may point out that the show is still in its first season, which started in February, 2016. You are correct; it was a bait and switch, I can live with it.)
When I raved about the program in May, I noted that Bee’s “interviews” didn’t really work. Although a staple of late night news satire, I don’t love those kinds of pieces because they stack the deck and then edit the stacked deck to make a point; I always feel badly for the idiots who want to be on TV so much they’ll put up with any abuse. (I’d love to see the legal rider, if any, that authorizes use of the material; even more, I’d love to watch the subjects try to understand it, then sign the rider anyway.)
Samantha Bee has been on such a smart, fierce roll I was starting to consider the program a masterpiece of the form. Then Monday’s episode, “Cleveland,” contained a Scott Baio joke that featured a still from Happy Days – The Fonz jumping the shark. Who among us understood the warning? The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad foreshadowing… of Wednesday’s “Very Special Full Frontal Special.” On that special-in-an-ironic-way special, Samantha Bee and Full Frontal did indeed, with apparently neither shame nor recognition, jump the fucking shark.
“Cleveland” is billed as a documentary, but that’s a loose description: it’s a documentary that makes Michael Moore look like Ken Burns. The episode is only 21 minutes, but it feels like an hour. A hour stuffed with bad writing and awkward performances, and plenty of rigged “interviews.” Susan, who’s watched every FF episode with me, said: “If that was the first time I’d seen it, I’d never watch again.” We went to bed, low in our spirits.
But then, as we slept, Stephen Colbert put Jon Stewart behind his Late Show desk for ten glorious minutes. Stewart’s monologue was cathartic for me, and, I expect, for thousands who’ve stayed out of the social media fray re: Trump. We know that as much as we scream logically and loudly into the wind, it doesn’t matter at all. We know in our hearts that satirical news shows don’t make any difference. But somehow, Stewart’s well crafted, very funny sketch was a balm. It was performance art, more than anything else – at once elegant and raw, expressing something we needed.
We need to be reminded to scream into the wind every now and then, because courtesy can easily become complacency. I’ve read a lot of “agree to disagree” this political season, as if all of this political stuff is essentially harmless, because we all mean well. “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” they say. Not if that opinion will harm others. I asked my brother how he can vote Republican, when every candidate has pledged to nullify the marriages of people we know, including some in our extended family. “I just vote Republican because I’m fiscally conservative. Those other things probably won’t happen.” (The same argument made by Brexit supporters – it will all be good and nobody will get hurt.)
Amazingly, people support Trump despite his track record – set aside the misogynist bigot angle for a moment. He’s made some money for himself, but he’s left a lot of people holding the bag, forcing small businesses to accept pennies on the dollar when he reneges on promises or declares bankruptcy. Trump’s business style is “me first,” without any regard for his stakeholders. Even if the Presidency were akin to running a business (it’s much more complicated), Trump would STILL be minimally qualified for the job. If he becomes President, the only guarantee is that he’ll find a way to benefit personally – to hell with everyone else. This isn’t opinion – it’s actually happened, over and over, and has been reported on for the past 35 years.
So, thank you Jon Stewart, and get well soon Samantha Bee… It occurs to me now that Full Frontal’s special might actually have been an elaborate tribute to Happy Days creator Gary Marshall, who died on July 19. (“Hey, what if we jump the shark…”) That would be sort of brilliant.