Each episode, McHale presented a variety of clips from the week in bad TV, covering everything from morning news segments to the latest episode of The Bachelor, season -insert number from 5 to 19 here-. The Soup ran for 12 seasons, from 2004 to 2015, and then E! cancelled it, completing their transformation into the fully garbage network they always aspired to be.
If you’re like me, you watched The Soup enough that you can probably still hear the sound bites from the show’s recurring segments in your head (sooooo meaty, etc). Luckily, The Joel McHale Show on Netflix is just like The Soup, except it’s not on network television anymore so Joel and all of his guests can curse as much as they want to. So far, some of the complaints about this show have been that it’s too much of the same (see Paste’s review, ‘The Joel McHale Show Suffers from Its Insistence on Formula’), but I’m here to argue that its willingness to stay the same is exactly what makes it so damn enjoyable.
It’s important to note that in no way is The Joel McHale Show pretending to be anything other than exactly what it is: a barely-different-revamp of The Soup. Multiple times per episode, McHale, his celebrity guest, or some recurring character acknowledges the banality of this pursuit. In this past week’s episode, re: American Idol’s return, McHale quips: “If you ask me, there is nothing more desperate than an old show resurfacing on a new network with almost the exact same format, and the same old, tired host.”
Self-awareness is so important on a show like this, and it’s something that Joel McHale has always had in spades — he presents as a smug asshole, but makes so many jokes about how much of a smug asshole he is that eventually he winds back around to being charming. I think it would be one thing if this reboot tried to pretend it wasn’t exactly the same as it used to be, but the writers aren’t trying to fool anyone; instead, they make it a part of the joke, implying that when given the freedom of commandeering a Netflix original, McHale (or his persona) would simply lean as hard as possible into his narcissism. After all, the official title of this show is The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale.
One thing every weekly comedy show needs is a rivalry. Piggybacking off The Soup’s antagonistic relationship with Today, McHale is already embroiled in a feud with Donna Farizan, Today’s social contributor and host of Off-Air with Donnadorable. Off-Air is Today’s new Youtube after-show where Donnadorable supposedly chats with Today’s celeb guests in a more casual atmosphere after their formal interview, but so far, she’s had some trouble getting them to stick around for her show — which is exactly what McHale was poking fun at. Today launched a defense of Donnadorable the following week, which provoked yet another response from McHale, and then Billy Eichner got in on it, and… well, you can see some of it for yourself here:
Speaking of celebrity guests, that’s another fun part of watching this show: you never know who’s going to turn up, or what they’re going to do. Much like on The Soup, the featured celebrities are always around to promote something, but they usually don’t mention it until the very end — and interestingly, more than one of the guests this season have focused their promotion time on a cause rather than a new film or television show. Kristen Bell talked about her work with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and Billy Eichner plugged his Glam Up the Midterms campaign. My favorite guest appearance so far, strangely enough, is Eric Bana, who participates in a delightful home-shopping parody: Eric Bana’s Banana Bandana Cabana.
One new and wildly entertaining segment is called “Joel’s International Corner,” which is introduced by a horrific cacophony of stereotypically “exotic” instruments playing all at once with no particular rhythm or melody. It’s not the intro that’s funny so much as the way McHale manages to be repulsed and offended anew every time he hears it. One of the best editions of this segment thus far features an incredibly lengthy montage of clips from Korean soap operas, all of which involve a character taking far too long to get out of the way of a vehicle that eventually hits them. As McHale promises, “This might stop being funny a couple of times, but don’t worry, it circles back.”
As much as I could continue to praise it, I’m not going to pretend this show is perfect. Not all of the jokes land, some of the longer video sketches are flat and unfunny, and somehow Mankini (sorry — One Piece Man) doesn’t fare too well in the comedic landscape of 2018. I’ve seen some reviews complain about the recurring Netflix segment for being too obvious an advertising gimmick, but it doesn’t really bother me; it would be unrealistic to have a television commentary show in this day and age that didn’t cover Netflix’s original content.
Perhaps the biggest question people are asking about this show is: where does a show like this, or The Soup, fit into the world we live in now? The president of this country is a monster and his administration is even worse, we may be blown up at any moment, if we don’t get blown up the planet will slowly kill us for killing it, and there’s not a lot that we can do about any of it but spend our days remembering every ten minutes or so that everything, objectively speaking, is terrible.
The thing is: sometimes I want to forget about all of that and watch some trash TV. The total silliness of this show, the uselessness of it, is what I love about it — what I loved about The Soup. Its lack of seriousness and self-importance is refreshing; it is willing to laugh at almost everything, but especially at itself. Yes, it’s formulaic, but the formula still works on me.
I hope you’ll give The Joel McHale Show a watch and see if it works on you, too. If you liked The Soup, then it probably will.