'It's Personal With Amy Hoggart': TV Review

There's a winning show here, but early episodes struggle to find the right approach.
2/26/2020

'Almost Royal' and 'Full Frontal With Samantha Bee' veteran Amy Hoggart turns comic self-improvement guru in her new truTV series.

Fans of her ahead-of-its-time faux-reality show Almost Royal and her correspondent work on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee know that British comic Amy Hoggart has been worthy of a showcase star vehicle for a while now.

Those established fans are likely to have mixed feelings about It's Personal With Amy Hoggart, a truTV series with a lot of potential, but a muddled sense of purpose. Those who don't know Hoggart's blend of strychnine-laced British cheeriness will probably be even more confused, because out of the three episodes sent to critics only one really exhibited the traits of a repeatable ongoing series.

It's hard to even explain what It's Personal, which boasts Full Frontal executive producers Bee and Jason Jones among its producers, is going for. Hoggart plays herself as a wholly unqualified self-improvement try-hard traveling the country making ordinary people feel better about their emotional limitations. Why? As she puts it, "Because life is hard, and I'm nice."

Each episode is based around Hoggart helping one real person with their issues, but only after a dire introductory warning telling us, "Each client was screened and okayed by a licensed psychologist before entering the care of Amy Hoggart, a completely unlicensed non-professional. If you are struggling, seek progressional help." Again, as she puts it, "I'm not a therapist and I'm not a counselor. I'm an empath."

Basically, Hoggart's credential is that she cares and that's what It's Personal is selling. She's an open and attentive listener and has a wide-eyed, enthusiastic ability to relate each episodic theme to her own insecurities in a way that comes across as both egotistical and self-aware (in that she's conscious of her privilege as an attractive, educated, successful outsider and makes herself the brunt of any joke that's even somewhat barbed). Plus, she knows that any joke in an emotionally fraught circumstance, regardless of its target, is more palatable when delivered in a chirpy, posh accent.

But what is the joke? And what is the show actually meant to accomplish? The three installments I've seen have a definite Goldilocks situation going on.

The first episode, titled "Anxiety," was too dark. Brooklyn-based Gilbert can't get a job because he suffers from paralyzing insecurities, and my sense is that whatever is plaguing Gilbert is wildly beyond Hoggart's pay grade. She tries embodying his neuroses in the form of henna tattoos and a strange costume and I only laughed occasionally, because I felt like Gilbert's problems weren't being adequately explained and that he probably needed real professional help and not in the form of a truTV reality comedy.

The second episode, titled "Humor," was too light. Laura, an exec vp of content strategy somewhere, worried that her professional advancement was being hindered by her inability to tell a joke. But Laura's an exec vp of content strategy somewhere and she obviously isn't doing so badly and, at worst, she comes across as a little awkward. I liked how Hoggart refocused Laura's problem into a commentary on how people, men in particular, process "funny" women and double standards that gender-ize the very act of making jokes in the workplace. But it was hard for me to gauge whether there was anything wrong with Laura to begin with or if Hoggart was meaningfully able to assist somebody who had already managed to reach a high level in her chosen profession. Laura will be fine with or without It's Personal, which I guess is a relief.

That left the third episode, "Miami," as the only It's Personal episode that made me go, "Yes! That's the show I'd watch on a weekly basis." Livi, a 19-year-old college student, suffers from body-image problems and she blames Miami and its culture of scantily clad sexiness for her anxiety. It's a perfect mixture of self-doubt, deflected blame and a puzzle capable of being solved through a refreshing of perspective, which is what Hoggart seems to be best at. Over 22 minutes in this episode, she sets about reframing the city of Miami for Livi and, in the process, facilitates a completely believable attitude adjustment, pulled off with a versatile bag of tricks familiar to anybody in the late-night comedy game. She plays old timey dress-up on the beach. She makes a cheeky tourist video. She gets Miami residents to make arguments for civic charms more expansive than a string bikini. Hoggart and her subject have multiple sincere moments that somehow feel earned.

Hoggart was born in the U.S., raised in the U.K. and descends from a long familial line of British cultural observers — she even has a TV critic uncle! — and analysts, so she comes at her curiosities from a genuine and organic place. She is an interloper of sorts, especially when accompanied by a camera crew, but she cares on a level that goes beyond jokey voiceover declarations of caring.

I hope future episodes of It's Personal With Amy Hoggart mirror the "Miami" episode in its sense of scale and structure. Just because Hoggart is receptive and conveys an almost universal Curious Little Sister energy doesn't mean that anybody should want to entrust legitimate baggage with her, nor that viewers will be willing or able to laugh at or with it. But these are problems that, tackled with Hoggart's brand of charm, feel manageable — and it may be enjoyable to watch them get resolved in future episodes.

Premieres: Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (truTV)