Since Jon Stewart stepped out of the host’s chair at The Daily Show, the scramble has been on to find his equal as a political commentator. For good reason, the world has looked mainly to Daily Show alumni for his replacement, but most have been lacking. Stewart referred to it as “fake news,” but he was really this generation’s voice of reason, a mixture of Twain and Cronkite. Sure, Stephen Colbert is still kicking, but by necessity of hosting a late-night variety show, his focus has pivoted towards pop culture. Larry Wilmore is more concerned with individual societal issues; Trevor Noah’s claws aren’t sharp enough; and though he denies it, John Oliver does serious journalism.
This isn’t to discount any of these men. We need Wilmore’s pointed discussions, Oliver’s searing yet hilarious exposés, and even Noah’s more genial ribbing. And though Colbert is tamer, he’s by far the sharpest thing on late-night talk shows. But the fact remains that there is no one who focuses on a gloves-off, in-depth commentary on every angle of our political circus the way Stewart did … except for Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.
Bee, a Daily Show correspondent for more than a decade, wasn’t offered the hosting job when Stewart departed. But try to let that stop her. Her new TBS show is raw, edgy, and unafraid to stray into comedic territory others avoid, like commenting on her lack of late-night female counterparts. This segment on Hillary Clinton, for one, deftly needles the candidate while nodding to the double-standards she faces: no male candidate would be given a note from her handlers reading “DON’T BE C*NTY,” we can all agree.
She’s equally tough on Republicans and Democrats, and in true Stewart spirit, she approaches everything with her bullshit meter tuned up. Occasionally, though, she’ll admit to her shock at agreeing with Donald Trump.
She’s still less polished than Stewart, pacing around her studio chaotically rather than anchoring herself at a desk, and she uses her whole body to react to clips she shows, rather than his eye rolls and double-takes — but it gives her show a slapdash, unfiltered, punk-rock quality that suits the material. Trevor Noah’s style is, in contrast, more aloof and gentle; he reacts to absurd news items with delighted laughter. That certainly has a place in the comedy arena as well, but if you miss Stewart-style reactions — reactions that affirm that you’re not insane; that person really just said that — look to Samantha Bee.
Her show isn’t just reaction shots to clips. During her Daily Show reign, Bee was the best satirical field reporter. She has carried that over, with her typical thoughtful yet absurd reporting, as in her piece on Syrian refugees.
Samantha Bee might not have floored Comedy Central and the Daily Show producers, but she’s having the last laugh. As her late-night counterparts blend in a mixture of viral clips and mildly funny yet ultimately inconsequential bits, Bee is carrying on Jon Stewart’s gloves-off takedowns of everyone and everything in American politics — while making it her own, to boot.