The Soup ran for twelve seasons and 618 episodes on E! before being cancelled in 2015. Netflix’s The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale might as well be episode 619. It’s essentially a soft reboot, jumping back into The Soup’s format immediately in its ostensible pilot.
It’s the format that is largely the sticking point here. Any show should be judged against what it’s trying to accomplish, and if the comment section jokes at the expense of reality TV clips and viral videos are what The Joel McHale Show is going with, then within those parameters, they do an okay job. McHale and the show’s writers are good at jokes. But The Soup rose to prominence during the ascent of YouTube, and having someone apply late-night host tactics to the new wave of viral videos was a real novelty back then. More than a decade later, and with the pedigree of the format stained by the antics of Tosh.0, I can’t help but think this kind of approach might be played out. In 2018, this show distractingly reminds you of someone playing endless Vine compilations and making you watch them.
The whole enterprise just seems a little tired. The idea is tired, and the people are clearly exhausted. A segment in the pilot sees McHale taking a tour of the Netflix studios, bumping into a mess of cameos. There’s Allison Brie (of the Netflix original series GLOW), there’s Paul Reiser (of the Netflix original series Stranger Things), Mike Colter (of the Netflix original series Luke Cage), Jim Rash (of the Netflix original series Beyond Stranger Things), Paul Feig (producer of the Netflix original series The Joel McHale Show), and Kevin Hart (from Kevin Hart). The only cameo that seems to work is a drop-in from Rory Scovel as an audience member, but that’s only because no one points and says “look: it’s Rory Scovel from the Netflix original comedy special Rory Scovel Tries Stand-Up for the First Time!” A fun reoccurring joke that has that Netflix noise (“guh-DONNNNE”) drop every time someone references the show they’re on suggests a more playful MO, but for a show that seems to pride itself on snarky subversion, it’s a weirdly corporate move.
Obviously, it makes sense for a network to fill its new show with people from other shows they know we already like. But when Steve Buscemi shows up for a segment on Last Week Tonight, your first thought probably isn’t “oh, he was on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.” And in this instance it comes across as an act of shameless synergy, and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
And listen, I like Joel McHale. He has the roguish smugness of, ironically, a young Chevy Chase. (Who he played in David Wain’s movie A Futile and Stupid Gesture, which was released by… Netflix.) I once catered an event and hovered near him waiting to refill his red wine but never got the chance. I like Joel McHale. But he’s more interesting than this, and deserves an outlet that energizes him more than it does here.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.