11:25am PT by Chris Eggertsen
Joel McHale on Doing 'The Soup' 2.0 for Netflix and Why He Won't Target Trump
"Trending news, pop culture, social media, original sketches and more come together."
That's how Netflix describes host Joel McHale's new weekly comedy commentary show. If that sounds suspiciously like McHale's former unscripted vehicle, E!'s beloved snarkfest The Soup, you're not far off. In fact, the actor and host doesn't do much to dispel the notion that the show is, more or less, The Soup 2.0, right down to its mixture of green screen commentary and pretaped sketches. This time, though, they're casting the net even wider.
"Now we're going to make fun of everything," McHale tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We're going to make fun of streaming services, we're going to be making fun of reality shows in other countries." Among the targets, as described by McHale: A Candid Camera-esque Japanese game show that tries scaring its participants to the point where they literally think they're going to die. Which isn't to say he's abandoning the old standbys. "Of course, we will hit staples like The Bachelor or The Real Housewives," he continues. "Those are like the basic food groups."
So why shakeup a winning formula? From 2004 to 2015, The Soup (a revamped version of Talk Soup, the show that helped launch the careers of hosts including Greg Kinnear and Aisha Tyler) was a pillar of the E! lineup, winning converts thanks to McHale's smirky takes on reality TV, from morning-show gaffes to the spoiled antics of assorted Bravolebrities. He even took aim at the network's in-house reality stars — most vitally the Kardashians — before E! put a stop to it after more than a decadelong run. It was at that point that McHale realized the network was, in his words, "getting out of the comedy business."
"When they said, 'Stop making fun of the Kardashians,' that was pretty much it," he says. "That's the only reason why the show could exist really, was because it made fun of its owner. It had to. I always compared it to David Letterman making fun of GE — you make fun of the most powerful thing that pays you. That's kind of a comedian's job."
Not helping matters was an unfortunate time slot change (E! moved the show from Fridays to Wednesdays, where it lost viewers), as well as the network's switch to employing union writers, which — while obviously great for the writers — cut deeply into the show's profits. "They make all their money by repeating episodes endlessly, and they sell ads for those things … that's their model," says McHale. "And when they had to start paying residuals for every rerun, we went from 15 [episodes] a week to zero."
After the show ended, McHale wasn't exactly hurting for work, but he yearned to get back to hosting. Although he'd managed to build a parallel career as an actor on shows like NBC-turned-Yahoo comedy Community and last year's one-and-done CBS sitcom The Great Indoors ("which went so well," he deadpans), he found that he missed the weekly grind of mocking reality stars. "After The Soup ended," he says, "I knew I didn't want to not do that."
It took a while for the project to get off the ground, mainly because of McHale's mandate that perennial writing partners Boyd Vico and Brad Stevens be a part of it. As he waited for their schedules to clear, writer-director Paul Feig, a longtime fan of The Soup, signed on to executive-produce the new series. And then Netflix entered the picture. "[They] not only offered us a show, but they were like, 'Yeah, we'll pick it up for 13 right now,'" says McHale. "We went, 'Yes. Great.'"
Compared with the "hands-on" executives at E!, Netflix has granted McHale unbelievable creative freedom. "They absolutely don't give us any comedy notes," he says. "There's no patronizing, like, 'Uh, we know what we're doing, why don't you just step back there, Sonny.' There's none of that."
But for all the creative freedom, there are potential pitfalls with having your show picked up by the streaming behemoth. Indeed, the service has released a deluge of new original series during the past couple of years, and — particularly with no ratings information forthcoming — it's hard not to wonder how many are getting lost in the shuffle. Look no further than McHale's former E! cohort Chelsea Handler, whose eponymous Netflix chat series failed to register and was canceled after two seasons. For all his gung-ho optimism, McHale acknowledges the challenges in cutting through the noise.
"That's the anxiety you have when you're going to No. 1. There's so much programming. I guess the thing is, would you rather be on a streaming service no one is watching but you would be a big fish? Or would you rather try to swim with the biggest [fish] in the ocean, and if you stay afloat then you're golden?" he says. "I'm not too afraid at this point. I want the show to work obviously, and I don't want to get lost, but they have a plan. And their model seems to work. Since we're a topical show, we're an anomaly on their network, so I don't know. I guess that means we can be promoted every week."
Inevitably helping with said promotion will be the show's Soup-style focus on booking fellow celebs to join in the snark. Episode one alone boasts a slew of notable guests, with Kevin Hart, Paul Reiser, Luke Cage star Mike Colter (seen above), Fuller House's Jodie Sweetin and McHale's former Community co-stars Alison Brie and Jim Rash (also seen above) all scheduled to appear. As for future guest stars, McHale names David Oyelowo ("It turns out he's really funny") as well as members of the Stranger Things cast, though it sounds like his former Community co-star-turned-Atlanta Emmy winner Donald Glover probably won't be making an appearance. "Yeah, I'm sure he's going to have a lot of time to swing by and tell some jokes with me," says McHale of the multihyphenate. "He's coming out in Star Wars, and I now have two cameras instead of one."
Despite its focus on being a pop culture catch-all, the series won't be extending its reach to the political sphere. While commenting on the reality-show-like Trump White House has paid dividends for late-night hosts like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and John Oliver, McHale acknowledges it's neither his brand nor his strong suit.
"On The Soup, we were never a political show," he says. "We were always about covering the coverage. So, if there was something going on in the news, and everyone was talking about it, we would always say, 'This was how this was presented' and we make a joke about it. But me, I'm not smart enough to give a searing political indictment."
McHale also seems to understand that in 2018, the market for political comedy is saturated, and that perhaps the escapism The Soup provided for so many years is the savviest approach.
"Trump takes up 90 percent of news and entertainment now," he says. "And we want people to know that there are a lot of bad and silly reality shows out there that need to be made fun of," he says.
The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale premieres Sunday, Feb. 18 on Netflix.