Friday, March 31, 2017
March 31, 2017: Televised Fools: Social Satire
[For this year’s April Fool’s series, I wanted to AmericanStudy a handful of recent comic TV shows. Share your thoughts on these or other televised foolishness, present or past, in comments!]
On four comic shows from which we can learn a great deal about our society and culture.
1) Key & Peele (2012-2015): During its five seasons and fifty-three episodes, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Comedy Central sketch comedy series was more than just consistently hilarious; it offered some of the most biting and insightful reflections on race in America that I’ve ever seen (in any genre or medium). (By all reports, Peele’s new horror film Get Out manages the same impressive balance of entertainment and social commentary within that genre.) If I were to suggest any one cultural work to represent race in America in the age of Trayvon and Obama, it would have to be Key & Peele; a viewer could dive into almost any episode and come away with a better understanding of the lightest and darkest of both this crucial issue and our national community.
2) Inside Amy Schumer (2013- ). I would say many of the same things about Amy Schumer’s Comedy Central sketch comedy show, which has aired four seasons and has a fifth coming at some point in the future; only her show focuses its social satirical lens most consistently on issues of gender and sex. Schumer is particularly adept at utilizing parody in the best ways about which I wrote in yesterday’s post: see this Friday Night Lights sketch on football and rape culture; or this clip from her transcendent, episode-long parody of Twelve Angry Men. But her entirely original sketches are just as biting, as illustrated by this one on female celebrities experiencing their “last fuckable day.” Between the two of them, Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer could comprise the entire syllabus for a course on 21st century America and you wouldn’t run out of things to talk about.
3) Last Week Tonight (2014- ): The Daily Show veteran John Oliver’s weekly news satire show on HBO is an entirely different animal, not only from sketch comedy shows like those but even from The Daily Show and its ilk. What Oliver does best—and, perhaps, what only Oliver does—is produce in-depth segments, usually running in the ballpark of twenty minutes, that examine a complex issue at great length, featuring a mixture of humor, investigative reporting, and impassioned arguments and activism. If you haven’t seen any, I don’t think you can go wrong, but I would recommend in particular this one on the death penalty, this one on prisons, this one on refugees, and this one on online harassment of women. Like many folks, I used to say that The Daily Show offered more accurate news than most of the news media; that might well still be true, but I don’t think any current show offers better reporting on vital American issues than Last Week Tonight.
4) Full Frontal (2016- ): Another Daily Show vet, Samantha Bee’s weekly news satire show is the newest of this batch (it debuted just over a year ago), but has already impressed me (and everybody else I’ve ever talked to about it) with its blend of reporting and humor (a la Oliver’s show) mixed with Bee’s unique, fiery, and never less than compelling voice and perspective. Once again, I don’t think you can go wrong with any clip, but this one—Bee’s response to Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape scandal from last October—is a particular favorite and exemplifies all those qualities that have made this show much-watch television so quickly. As I wrote in this post on the media and the 2016 election (written in the halcyon days before that election actually transpired), to my mind the majority of the best coverage of that campaign came from the Olivers and Bees of the media world. That’s partly a disturbing reflection of the state of other parts of the news media, to be sure; but it’s also partly an illustration of just how vital these kinds of social satirical voices have become in our society and culture.
March Recap this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Other TV comedies you’d highlight?