Hannibal Buress is a smart enough comic that I’m sure he knew he was offering up potential fodder to TV critics with the name of his new TV show. Because, even though it is only one episode old, I’m still not convinced that the world needs a program like this. And I want to know who thought this was the best showcase for Hannibal’s abilities as an actor and comedian.
The big hook for the show is that it tries to remain as current as possible—filming episodes the day before they air on Comedy Central. Hence the commentary in this first installment about the U.S. Women’s National Team winning the World Cup, jokes about Greece being like a broke philosophy major avoiding creditors and sleeping on Turkey’s couch, and getting tracked down by a “Bill Cosby assassin.” Decent enough stuff, but it’s not like we’re hurting for humorous socio-political commentary, especially on Buress’s parent network.
After reading the extensive article in the New York Times about how Comedy Central is working to make sure each of its series has a really long tail, in terms of virality, I couldn’t help but see the rather creaky concessions being made to draw in an audience well beyond this first episode’s airdate. There were appearances by more well-known TV personalities, including Conan O’Brien, James Corden and Amy Schumer, and pieces that seemed blatantly framed for repeat viewings on YouTube.
In at least one case—the segment where Buress confronts an online troll in person who turns out to be Schumer—it turned into a fairly funny piece. They even built an entire piece around the popular video of a white dude avoiding all repercussions after getting pulled over by the police by refusing to answer questions. Buress is dead right that he or most any other minority would never be able to get away with this, but as silly as his version of it was (the comic’s car is bombed by a drone in response), it added zero to the conversation.
That said, I don’t necessarily think Buress is trying to change hearts and minds with his show. He’s making his points but he also knows how deeply we have ingrained and absorbed a lot of the bullshit hurting our culture. So he balances the bitter with the sweetly absurd like his episode ending 8th of July celebration complete with a shitty Ben Franklin impersonator, an appearance by the always welcome John Ennis (Mr. Show), and an opera tenor singing one liners.
As most reviewers have already noted, there is tremendous potential with Why?. The writing staff is strong and it is blessed with a great host with one of the best comedic minds around. Hopefully they can knock off some of the rust and baby fat and turn this into something just like Buress’s standup work where the humor is tightly conceived yet loosely rendered.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.