It’s official: Samantha Bee’s sharply scripted Full Frontal is definitively disrupting TVland. It’s the only female-hosted late night show, and its host is armed with likability and impeccable comic timing. Not only does Bee entertain us with scathingly incisive commentary on the upcoming U.S. presidential election, but she weighs in on a slew of hot topics like abortion, gun control, race relations, and gay rights.
Her wicked one-liners - also due in part to her brilliant head writer Jo Miller - are highlighted by a creative and effective use of props, the likes of which we haven’t seen on TV since Whose Line Is it Anyway?, and that was a one-shot gimmick. Hosts like Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert use lavish sets from time to time, but none of them embed their bits into tangible environments as deftly as Bee does. To her credit, she’s is using more than physicality; she uniquely interacts with her environment in a way that she couldn’t if she was stuck behind a desk, a la The Daily Show.
For example, Bee’s zinger of a pilot opens with a mock press conference where she is assailed by questions purely based on her gender (by mostly male journalists): “Is it hard breaking into the boys club?” “How can I watch your show as a man?” “Do you have a problem with your ovaries falling out, or anything?” Finally, a valid question is posed: “Sam, what did you have to differently to make this show a reality?”
But just before can reply, the journalist snidely adds: “As a woman?” Without losing a beat, Bee shoots back breezily, “Okay, you know what it took? Hard work, a great team. Maybe just a little bit of magic (wink).” In contrast to her unfazed attitude, we are then suddenly flashed-back to a satirical candle-lit Black Mass sequence where Bee shrieks directly into the camera with dishevelled hair and a Rosemary Baby-ish nightgown, possessed and distorted by young white males in suits who zap her with lightening bolts. Back in the dumbfounded press room, Bee quips, “It’s true, we’re all witches.”
Showing, rather than telling, with the use of props often adds an interactive and visceral dimension to her political commentary; proving that an image is indeed often worth a thousand words. After a news clip of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s triumph at the Iowa Caucuses, where he proclaims to a cheering crowd, “Tonight the state of Iowa has spoken. To God be the glory,” Bee is seen cheerfully humming and tying an oversized hang noose. “Oh, hi,” she quips. “I’ll finish this later.”
Similarly, after running a clip of a racist Donald Trump rant, Bee anxiously stuffs an overfilled suitcase prominently featuring a Canadian flag decal. Then there’s her reaction to that Fox News Republican debate, when Trump declares: “You referred to my hands. If they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you, there’s no problem. The following shot is a close-up of Bee’s face, obscured by a light-brownish blob on the screen. “I’m so sorry,” she apologizes, grimacing and using a windshield wiper to scrape away the mess. “Let me just wipe the vomit off the camera.”
Bee is also not afraid to use her teamsters as “props” to heightened ironic effect, as a mistress of understatement. After learning that a milestone in the U.S. has been reached, since the federal government has awarded 5 percent of its contracts to women-owned small businesses, Bee raves: “Five percent! That’s amazing! Considering the fact that women are like, what, two to three percent of the population? And it only took 22 years to hit that ambitious goal.” Nodding her head, she adds, “This calls for a celebration.” Pan to on-stage, where an ensemble of young stage hands stare desolately into space. One toots a party favor. Above, a guy on a step ladder releases a balloon and half-heartedly releases a handful of confetti, while in the background three red screens glaringly scream “5%.”
But perhaps the riskiest and best of Bee’s elaborate visual aids are self-mocking in tone. She’s more than willing to not only agree with her detractors, but to push their claims to their logical extreme - in order to reveal their inherently absurd nature.
Full Frontal’s Episode Five takes us backstage, where Bee high-fives her crew and passes clapping fans who shout out, “You totally eviscerated Ted Cruz!” and “You’re my liberal Goddess!” Once Bee manages to shut the door to her dressing room, she collapses against the framed photograph of a grinning Cruz, whispering melodramatically, “I’m so sorry.” She rips open her button-up shirt, revealing a Ted Cruz 2016 T-Shirt underneath: “I’m in too deep.”
Cue Latin music as Bee stumbles towards her vanity mirror which doubles as a fan-obsessed Cruz shrine, covered with cut-out poster figures and family photo opps of the Republican Senator. Bee stares at her reflection in mock self-loathing: “What am I doing? I can’t keep living this lie!” She starts stroking the cardboard cut-out of Cruz’s face pasted onto a life-size plastic doll dressed in a suit. “Why do I do this?
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any funnier, a stage hand arrives with a large sack marked with a dollar sign: “Hey, here’s your payment from the liberal media.” “Thaaaanks,” Bee replies. “Just put it in the bathtub with the rest of the cash.”
The riskiest of Bee’s interactive stunts is her Trump Supporter Party in Episode Six, which veers into truly imaginative, if not surreal territory. After a diverse panel of young, educated Trump supporters justify the white supremist-related violence that has come to characterize his rallies as an “old” way of doing things, Bee invites them into a lavishly-decorated room complete with waiters serving canapes and champagne glass pyramids. There’s even live entertainment.
Next to a banner that reads: “Full Frontal Unironically Welcomes You,” Dave the rock guitarist starts riffing and crooning, “All you magic people rally round the magic man - Donald Trump! Can you stop the Mexicans from raping across the land?” To top it off, gift bag goodies for the guests include baseball caps embossed with the slogan: “MAKE MEDIA GREAT AGAIN.”
Back in the studio, just when you think things are back to normal, Bee is suddenly “interrupted” by a few audience protesters occupying the front row in matching Conan O’ Brian Team Coco T-shirts. She immediately yells, in her best Trump imitation: “Get ‘em out, get em’ out!”
Immediately, security thugs in dark sunglasses and suits swoop in. After attempting to remove the peaceful protesters by force, they start walloping on them. In a clever multilayered tie back to the Trump supporters’ racist defence of ejecting black dissenters at his rallies, Bee enthusiastically adopts their language: “You know, in the old days, we would’ve just punched Team Coco in the kidneys, but now it’s not politically correct. Is this the best show or what? We’re making late night great again!!”
All well-merited laughter aside, Samantha Bee as late night TV’s only female show host has definitely got some serious props - and balls.