Weirdly enough, the best place to get your Daily Show fix on a nightly basis isn’t actually on The Daily Show these days. It’s late night on NBC, after Jimmy Fallon gets done pitching softballs and Seth Meyers suits up to take on the news of the day.
It’s been heading that way for a while, but in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Late Night with Seth Meyers has become one of the best places for analysis of the day’s news, thoughtful takes on the larger issues, and biting commentary that will leave you laughing and crying. Sometimes at the same time. Sorry, Trevor Noah.
Meyers is three years into his late night tenure, and has spent the past year and a half tuning it into a vehicle fully equipped to address the sometimes-prickly and complicated world of politics with an approach that often blows the “real” fake news show out of the water. As Meyers’s show emerged as a player in the political commentary arena during the lead-up to the presidential election, he told Vulture it was “always sort of the plan” to get his version of Late Night deeper into the political fray, but few likely expected him to become one of the most clever and crucial political hosts in late night—helping fill a vacuum by the retirement of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show. Meyers obviously doesn’t hail from the Daily Show mothership, but he sharpened his news skills manning the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live for years, which is a similar type of news-comedy crucible.
The crux of Meyers’s show has become his almost-daily “A Closer Look” segments, which follow up his opening jokes, which, unlike most late night monologues, are anchored at a desk, Daily Show-style. These Closer Looks run up to 10 or more minutes at times, and have given Meyers a chance to shine. He’s taken aim at everything from the nuances surrounding President Donald Trump’s use of “alternative facts,” to a deep dive breakdown of Trump’s first, head-scratching solo press conference after taking office. In the past few weeks, he’s had some of the most thorough and easy to follow coverage of the ever-more-complicated story surrounding James Comey’s firing, and the investigation into potential Russian meddling.
“A Closer Look” is basically vintage Daily Show from Stewart’s era, with Meyers skewering the news, newsmakers, politicians and media. Of course, there’s no denying his rise has coincided with Trump’s ascension to the White House, but Meyers is arguably doing a better job than anyone at keeping track of the near-daily scandals and keeping viewers informed with what they need to understand. And providing some good zingers along the way, too.
But “A Closer Look” isn’t the only place where Meyers shines. His interviewing skills are stronger than Noah’s, and the way he took Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway to task with hard questions, while still keeping it cordial, was a work of art. Then there’s Meyers’s original political segments, like the side-splitting, fake White House press briefings. Turns out Sean Spicer is a whole lot funnier when a bit of video splicing is involved. Sure, it’s all played for laughs, but the fact that we’re almost through the looking glass into a world where actual press conferences go this way makes it more than just a clever bit of satire.
Meyers has managed to strike the perfect balance between longform video explainer journalism, ala John Oliver, and daily headline shots that make up The Daily Show’s bread and butter. The Saturday Night Live alum is doing some of the most thoughtful work of anyone on television. Meyers is hitting a lot of the beats that made Stewart such critical viewing, moreso than new Daily Show host Trevor Noah or even Colbert, much of the time. He has a way of pointing out the absurdity and calling out the bullshit in a head-on way that Daily Show has struggled to maintain since Stewart’s exit. Where Noah may go for the easier joke at times and drop a charismatic shrug, Meyers hits it head on—then gets to the joke.
On the other side of the spectrum, new Daily Show host Noah had massive shoes to fill when Stewart retired, and it didn’t help that most of the veteran correspondents bailed for their own shows and development deals when Stewart left. Noah’s slowly recrafted the show in his own image, bringing a more international flair that has been refreshing for the most part. He’s also given his excellent stable of newer correspondents room to shine (seriously, Roy Wood Jr. needs his own show pronto), but there’s no denying it’s lost some of its bite in Stewart’s absence. His interview with conservative internet star Tomi Lahren is a textbook example of how The Daily Show has changed. It was a brave and forward-thinking booking, and Noah asked some good questions along the way, but when his best retort is to just (understandably) shake his head in disbelief? That’s not a good thing. Lahren gave him an armory’s worth of ammunition, but Noah pulled back just as much as he pushed. An interview like that demanded an aggressive approach, and Noah failed to come through. Stewart never had a problem calling people out to their face, but Noah doesn’t feel comfortable enough in that role.
We’re not saying you should stop watching The Daily Show, because it still tells some good stories and makes some good points—but the time has come to stay up a bit later and give Late Night a closer look.
Trent Moore is an award-winning journalist and professional geek. You can read more of his stuff at Syfy Wire, and keep up with all his shenanigans @trentlmoore.