One of the safest tricks to succeed in business is finding a gap in the marketplace and filling it.
That is not what Comedy Central’s The Jim Jefferies Show is doing.
Late-night comedy host named James, Jim or Jimmy? We’ve got several of those, thanks.
Wry observer from a foreign land who simultaneously identifies as American, but also as a perplexed outsider when things go wonky? Allow me to introduce John, Trevor and Samantha.
Somebody else to rehash the same clips of Donald Trump saying something verifiably inaccurate or to skewer him when he tweets something intemperate or threatens to create an international incident through word or deed? I think we’re OK there, especially when it comes to airing weekly and therefore getting to current events after 10 TV hosts and half-a-million amateur pundits have already done so on Twitter.
Purveyor of field pieces in which the host goes someplace and interviews local crackpots who probably ought to know they’re being mocked but sign release forms anyway because we live in a world in which public humiliation is only rarely detrimental? Pretty soon you’ll be able to watch the background of different amusingly condescending field pieces and see crews from other shows producing the same general segments.
The Jim Jefferies Show premiered on Comedy Central last week, and rather than rushing to review off of one half-hour, I tried to give it an extra episode just to see if the things Jefferies and company were doing to set themselves apart might become more evident.
So far, the answer is something along the lines of, “Kinda, but not really enough yet.”
I like Jim Jefferies and think that, given the time, he’ll settle into a niche that makes his show funny if not necessary. His FX/FXX series Legit was clever and compassionate and was one of the few FX shows to fly under the radar of the critical establishment. He’s a great stand-up and he’s also a very savvy understander of his persona, with several politically driven bits and can go viral whenever certain unfortunate things happen.
What The Jim Jefferies Show needs is to stop trying to be like the other kids and to start trying to be like Jim Jefferies.
One of the things Jefferies does especially well is something I’d struggle to explain, but it’s almost belligerent common sense, like he plays a little dumb and clueless and then delivers his point as if to say, “If it’s this obvious to me, why aren’t you getting it?” only without saying that. It’s the drunk guy in the pub who seems to be goofing off and then bottom-lines something with astounding clarity. He’s the kid in the back of the classroom who the teacher thinks isn’t paying attention, but turns around and makes the teacher look dumb when he gets challenged. It’s in his posture and his delivery.
That’s part of why Jefferies is a field-piece natural. He can go somewhere, have fun with the oddness of a situation and then cut right through it. Jefferies’ visit to the Netherlands to raise an eyebrow at the country’s Black Pete tradition and his trip to Slovenia and Melania Trump’s childhood home were both solid. Neither was remarkably illuminating, but if Jefferies sticks to international destinations rather than just going to Middle America and interviewing dumb Trump supporters, that becomes something his show does that the other shows don’t necessarily always do (but certainly sometimes do). It’s not a path to finger-on-the-pulse currency, because I assume these field pieces were all filmed pre-premiere, but maybe that’s not what he needs to be doing?
Jefferies’ episode-opening monologues have been industry-standard so far. They’ve both been just a few days behind the news cycle and just a little canned, but they’ve both had chuckles. Rather than doing the monologues standing or directly addressing the camera from a chair, Jefferies likes to lounge, and that’s something else that has become instantly distinctive, reinforcing that “smart aleck kid at the back of the classroom” vibe. Jefferies is always leaning back and looking to the side, daring you to find his punchlines too edgy, too politically incorrect or too punny. So far, he hasn’t pushed the edge of that many envelopes, but waiting to see if he eventually tips over has become a favorite part of the show.
In both the monologue and in the third-segment “long analysis” piece, Jefferies is still puzzling with that “What can I do that’s me and also what viewers expect/want?” question. Jefferies isn’t a natural when it comes to headline reading. Was a long digression about Qatar this week supposed to be funny because Jefferies kept pronouncing “Qatar” differently and because he was doing a story he had no real take on just to avoid talking about Trump, or was something more supposed to be funny? He’s also not John Oliver or Seth Meyers, and this week’s second episode swung too far in that direction on several occasions, especially the explanation for why it will be hard to impeach President Trump, which got to the level of “Duh” but never swung past obviousness into that smart common sense.
Jefferies maybe isn’t great at “deep dives,” but he thrives on “lateral dives.” Last week’s look at racism, which included an incredulous look at police dashboard footage, the outing of a racist crew member and culminated in the “2 Years a Slave” proposal was the show’s best distillation of its host’s voice so far. It meandered, offered a couple serious points, meandered again and had appropriately askew logic by the end, with laughs throughout.
I’ve also gotten a kick out of two-time guest star Brad Pitt’s appearances as the show’s smilingly depressed weatherman. This week’s episode ended with Jefferies demanding loyalty from Pitt’s character, suggesting that he may not be around for long. He is, after all, Brad Pitt. Might different celebrity weathermen with different perspectives become a running gag? We’ll have to wait and see.
Generally, like most shows of this ilk, The Jim Jefferies Show will require a wait-and-see. As a fan of the host, there were enough elements with potential in the first two episodes to keep me watching. We just were spoiled by how out-of-the-box strong Oliver and Bee were with their shows. That’s not how this normally works.
Airs: Tuesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT (Comedy Central)