The Nerdist: TV Review
10 p.m. Saturday, March 30 (BBC America)
Chris Hardwick, Alex Murray, Jay James, Gary Snegaroff and K.P. Anderson
Chris Hardwick's BBC America variety talk show is a club where membership is granted only to those who can keep up with the references.
Geeks are inheriting the Earth, and BBC America wants to join in the fun. Luckily, they've brought in some genuine geek talent for it, creating a panel talk show from the popular podcast of the same name, The Nerdist. The comedy-variety show will have a 10-episode run showcasing stars from many beloved nerd series (like Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica) as well as stand-up comedians, games and banter among the panel about all things nerd.
Host Chris Hardwick has a long list of nerd-worthy credentials, including writing for Wired, working as a reviewer on G4's Attack of the Show, hosting The Walking Dead companion talk show series Talking Dead, and was even roommates with Wil Wheaton at one point, which is as close to the heart of current nerdom as one can get without actually being Wheaton. He's also worked with the network before. BBC America tested a Nerdist pilot in 2011 but didn't commit to a full series, instead airing specials like The Nerdist: Year in Review in 2011 that featured guests such as David Tennant, Simon Pegg and Nathan Fillion. In a 2012 special for the network, Hardwick debated the effects of space and time with fellow nerds in regards to Doctor Who, a series he loves passionately.
Finally accepted now as a full series, The Nerdist begins its run with a BBC Extravaganza theme, which makes sense both because that's more or less the raison d'etre of BBC America, not to mention Hardwick's rampant Anglophilia. In fact, if you don't recognize the name dropping of British series like Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers, The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, you might feel out of place (and for those who do get the references, there's an immediate warm feeling of "I am among friends!")
Hardwick is joined by his podcasting cohorts, comedy writer Jonah Ray and comedian Matt Mira. The three have an easy camaraderie and fast-paced banter that keeps the show moving quickly even when the celebrity guests, sometimes looking bewildered at the speed of quips, slow things down. In the inaugural episode the trio are joined by British actor Dominic Monaghan, Doctor Who's current Time Lord Matt Smith, the Doctor's newest companion Jenna-Louise Coleman, and Tatiana Maslany, who is currently starring in the new BBC America series Orphan Black. Yes, all of those guests feature on BBC America programming (Monaghan hosted a recent series travel series, Wild Things), but it doesn't feel shameless so much as a reminder that BBC America just has a lot of really nerdy shows.
In the coming weeks guests will include a wider array of nerd-beloved stars such as Katee Sackoff, Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen, Even Goldberg and others, but so far the banter among the original Nerdist trio remains the best. Even when the show leaves the studio for games (in the first episode Matt and Jonah battle Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman in darts and "pin the bowtie on the doctor"), the best quips and most fun come from the hosts ("The show is called Orphan Black, were you ever afraid Madonna would try and adopt it?"), whose goofy demeanors help infuse the traditional talk show format with some very energetic new blood.
At the end of each episode, The Nerdist features a stand-up comedian, and here things wobble slightly. Last Comic Standing's seemingly nervous Matt Kirshen, unfortunately never really connects with the American audience (for whom he has crafted some specialty jokes), save for a well-executed Kardashian zinger (when all else fails, slam the Kardashians.) More well-established comedians like Rob Hubel and Paul Scheer look to grace the show's docket in the future, which should make for nice cameos. At the same time though, I wish the panel were given as much time to talk as the guests. The original podcast started out with a celebrity guest each week, but by the second season it allowed Hardwick, Mira and Ray to spend episodes just on their own, something the TV series may also move towards.
Like TBS's surprisingly well-intentioned competition series King of the Nerds, BBC America should be given due for crafting a show that is actually for and by nerds. The Nerdist is a lot of fun, with its jumpy pace and many activities, and with the references flying around like X-wings, there's no pandering to those not in the know. Instead, it gives the feeling for once that the cool kids are the ones who can casually discuss cylons, the Tardis and Mordor, not the other way around.