Under Jon Stewart, “The Daily Show” had an enviable track record in developing talent, with many of the baby birds flying off to bigger solo ventures. Enter Samantha Bee, a bright light as a correspondent, who makes a relatively easy leap into the unfortunately named “Full Frontal,” a weekly half-hour on TBS. Although somewhat misleadingly billed as breaking up the late-night boys club (she actually airs in primetime, before “Conan”), Bee delivered a promising and pointed debut, demonstrating that when it comes to political satire, she can sting with the best of them.
Introduced with a multi-network launch on the Turner properties, “Full Frontal” doesn’t exactly try to reinvent the wheel. Indeed, about the only difference between her one-woman-with-clips shtick and that of John Oliver’s HBO program is that he sits, while she stands.
Still, a show like this is defined by its zingers, and as Bee noted near the outset, the current political cycle has provided her with a target-rich environment. In the opener, that included telling Hillary Clinton to “f— off” for saying she didn’t anticipate running for president; saying Bernie Sanders looked like he was “trying to flag down a waitress” during their last debate; and labeling the Republican primary field “a banquet of all-you-can-eat crazy.”
Like Oliver, Bee brought considerable edge (and several un-bleeped expletives) to her barbs, chiding candidates for using their children as props and telling Marco Rubio’s kids – who looked a little shell-shocked watching their father get cuffed at the most recent debate – “Cheer up: Daddy’s coming home soon.” And just when it seemed like Bee’s direct-to-camera material might begin to grow a bit wearisome, she closed with a cheeky field piece focusing on Jeb Bush’s campaign, essentially built around the clip of the GOP contender rather sheepishly asking an audience to “Please clap.”
With “The Daily Show” having lost some of its cultural sizzle as Trevor Noah seeks to fill Stewart’s sizable shoes, there appears to be more room for these offshoots to operate. And a weekly format seemingly allows the hosts to zero in on the choicest cuts from the previous week, without having to rely (in the premiere, anyway) on a celebrity stumping for a movie to flesh out an episode.
Admittedly, nobody was really crying out for another show just like this, but funny is funny, and there’s a whole lot of time for Bee to work this terrain between now and November. When she closed the show by telling the audience that she’s “excited to go on this ride with you,” the comic seemed to let her faux news guard down enough to sound genuinely enthusiastic. And if “Full Frontal” can sustain the energy she brought to the premiere, the feeling could well be mutual.