“Is it hard breaking into a boy’s club?” That was the second sentence uttered on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, the new weekly late night political comedy show that debuted Monday night on TBS, hosted by former Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee. The question was part of a pretaped bit sending up the particular position in which Full Frontal finds itself, as the only current late night show hosted by a woman. Full Frontal faces all the difficulties of any new late night show—it has to find its voice, its humor, its groove, and its audience—as well as the additional burden of being the only one of its kind. It is a late night show, and it is a symbol, and that symbolism can obscure the hard work that goes into it, no matter the host’s gender.
In the opening segment, reporters peppered Bee with questions not about her new show, but about being a woman with a new show. “What’s it like being a woman in late night?” “How can I watch your show as a man?” “What’s it like to be a female woman?” “What did you have to do differently to make this this show a reality … as a woman?” Bee replied to that last question by saying, “You know what it took? Hard work, a great team, and maybe just a little bit of magic.” Cut to a whole lot of actual witch-y magic, with Bee on a stake, looking liked a possessed poltergeist. It was a great opening: sharp and surreal, owning gender’s importance to Full Frontal, while also complicating it—acknowledging and impaling the gendered expectations surrounding it, all while being very funny.
Bee came out on stage—a sleek setup with purple accents and no desk in sight. She dove right in to the weekend’s debates, skewering Hillary and Bernie first, as if to announce her show’s intentions to lambast in bipartisan fashion, before turning to the “banquet of crazy” that is the Republicans. Nothing about the structure of this segment was particularly radical—it was standard Daily Show format, and she was working with some heavily hashed-over material—but it was very dense. Jokes came so thick they weren’t even offered up as laugh lines, as when Hillary Clinton was referred to, in passing as “Hermione Clinton,” and Trump was described as a “sentient caps-lock button.”
The segment was also delivered with Bee’s uniquely gleeful ferocity. No one seems more delighted to go in than she does. She uses her gender to great comedic effect: The implicit expectation of female politesse heightens her brutal honesty, making it hilarious and slightly surprising, like getting carved up by the unassuming lady on the bus with unexpected knife skills. After airing a clip of Clinton saying, “I never thought I’d be here asking people to vote for me for president,” Bee replied, “Oh, fuck off.” While showing a clip of Ted Cruz talking, Bee readied a noose: The sound of his voice makes her want to hang herself. She shredded Rubio’s comments on abortion, in which he claimed that Clinton supports abortions on the unborn child’s due date. “Uhm, that is literally the stupidest thing I have every heard,” Bee said. “Removing the baby on the due date isn’t an abortion, it’s a cesarean. … Keep telling your cabal of fetus fanatics that Hillary Clinton wants us to carry to term and then deliver our babies directly into a Vitamix, so Planned Parenthood can sell it to Whole Foods.”
The opener was followed by two segments, the first called Full Frontal’s “Elected Paperweight of the Month,” in which Bee goes after a local politician. In this case the politician was Mitch Holmes, a state senator from Kansas who wrote up a dress code for the women he works with because the men “already know how to dress professionally.” Again, Bee held nothing back, excoriating Holmes with vigor, calling him out for “doing really awesome work” in a legislative career devoted to “controlling women and celebrating the groups that exclude them.” In the second segment, Full Frontal put together a Werner Herzog–style mini-documentary about Jeb Bush’s New Hampshire campaign called “Jeb?” A little funnier in theory than execution, the bit still had this ringing endorsement from a Jeb supporter who concluded that if Jeb were any beverage, he would be a glass of milk, because: “It wouldn’t be fantastic if you could choose anything, but it’s a solid thing to have.”
If Full Frontal were going to be on every night, I would say, unreservedly, that it had a fantastic beginning. It seamlessly did in its first episode what The Daily Show With Trevor Noah has had a hard time doing for more than four months: altering Jon Stewart’s M.O. to reflect the interests and passions of a new host, while maintaining enough of Stewart’s intelligence, fire, and aggravation to keep the show urgent and scathing. But Full Frontal will only air once a week, and nothing about Bee’s first segment, sharp as it was, seemed suited to a weekly program. If Full Frontal is going to play off the news so directly, it will feel like a daily late night show that is, inexplicably, off the air four nights a week. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, another weekly show, has wisely and successfully gotten away from the day-to-day news cycle. Full Frontal will have to figure out a way to do the same, but it’s off to a promising start.