TV Review: ‘Join or Die With Craig Ferguson’

Join or Die With Craig Ferguson
Adam Taylor/HISTORY

Craig Ferguson appears to miss his late-night talk platform, and for the sake of his newest venture, he had better hope some viewers do too. Because other than the few minutes the host spends doing standup to open the half-hour, there’s precious little to recommend “Join or Die With Craig Ferguson,” a History series so loose as to feel not just under-produced, but virtually un-produced. Consisting of Ferguson and a trio of guests batting around the most arbitrary of topics, it might be the cheapest-looking program of its kind since “Square Off.” And that’s saying something.

“Join or Die” (a title derived from a Benjamin Franklin cartoon) is predicated on a simple if half-baked premise: Ferguson comes out and introduces that week’s subject, a la “Biggest Political Blunder” or “Worst Medical Advice,” tells a few jokes, and then brings out a trio of guests to discuss it. They gradually eliminate the pre-chosen contenders, before the audience selects a sort-of “winner,” not that it really matters.

Beyond kibitzing with the panel (which in each case includes one vaguely identified expert), Ferguson indulges in longish anecdotes – recounting, say, a meeting with former Vice President Dick Cheney, a “blunder” candidate for accidentally shooting a friend on a hunting trip. Others cited in that episode include Larry Craig (the Idaho Senator arrested in an airport men’s room) and Eliot Spitzer (Ferguson has a lot of fun with the former New York governor “frequenting” prostitutes), but as the participants point out, there are rather glaring oversights, suggesting the producers approached the winnowing process as casually as Ferguson and company do the conversation.

Of course, the network still somewhat misleadingly known as History is all about removing the hoary stench from history, trying to repackage it in a manner easily consumed by those who dread the prospect of opening a book. For a network with a scant profile in the comedy realm, merely landing someone with the following Ferguson established on CBS doubtless must have felt like a coup.

Still, the way the show approaches each week’s debate is so cavalier and light on substance that the producers might as well have turned this into a current-events forum and simply let everyone opine about the news of the week. Nor have the bookers exactly strained themselves lining up guests, although they did draw from the fraternity of late-night hosts by recruiting Jimmy Kimmel and Chris Hardwick for separate episodes.

As Ferguson demonstrated during his late-night stint, he’s very good at being off the cuff in a vaguely naughty, impish sort of way. But “Join or Die” (on which the host doubles as a producer) doesn’t unleash that gift quite so much as fail to provide it with a coherent framework or structure. As a result, the episodes labor even to fill a half-hour.

Ultimately, the series has the effect of eavesdropping on an exchange in a bar from a loud adjacent table. That’s not to say there won’t be the occasional chuckle; but given a choice, there’s just not much reason to join them.

TV Review: 'Join or Die With Craig Ferguson'

(Series; History, Thurs. Feb. 18, 11 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Comedy Dynamics, Green Mountain West and Lionsgate.

Crew

Executive producers, Craig Ferguson, Phil Cottone, Brian Volk-Weiss, Jim Biederman; director, Dana Calderwood. 30 MIN.

Cast

Host: Craig Ferguson

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  1. Deeply stupid and arbitrary, this wankfest will appeal to hipsters looking to waste some time…and anybody with any sense will avoid it. Ferguson is an idiot looking for a quick payday…this needs to be cancelled.

  2. Jimmy says:

    I just saw the first show, “History’s Biggest Political Blunders”. Was it King George losing America? Napoleon selling Louisianna? Russia & Alaska? No, it was along the lines of Herman Cain being (falsely) accused of sexual harassment, Dick Chaney’s shooting skills, etc… Laughing mostly at republicans while completely ignoring the likes of Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Barney Frank. Hardly historical, but, the “History” channel had lost it’s credibility a long time ago. This childish embarrassment is just stupid. It’s the kind of humor a 12 year-old boy would like, if a 12 year-old knew who they were talking about. ‘ Must work for democrats though.

  3. AC says:

    He could do an entire season just of the schemes of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

  4. Jean says:

    Craig and his guests are not having a ‘debate’, they’re having a discussion. Sounds like you’re just like everyone else in LA – unable to have a conversation with someone without slowly looking over that person’s shoulder to see if there’s someone more important to talk with.

  5. I must agree with “weski” and say how we have missed Craig since he was forced out of his last CBS TV home. Very few laughs and little to no substance on any of the current late night shows… so I ask that you give this show the time it may need to fully develop. Craig’s uniquely styled humor can be a bloody great treat after a normally challenging day of life.

  6. weski says:

    Looking forward to it! I’ve missed his witty banter with guests, no matter the subject. Any new show takes a bit to get its feet and I’m sorely missing him late at night. So many opinions on historical events and people that a discussion might be interesting.

  7. M. says:

    Looks like he’s kinda lost without the memos from the boss.

  8. Jo Mama says:

    This guy is a massive dolt for leaving late night, unless he was forced out under the guise of moving on. Now we have a show where, instead of comedy, you have millennial drones worshipping all things young, gay, and current over at James Corden.

    • Do you have any idea what is involved in doing a nightly show for ten years? Did it ever occur to you that maybe he was just *tired* of it, the same way Jon Stewart got tired of it? His intention with the show was to create something that wasn’t just another carbon copy over every other late night show, which he felt he had done, and there wasn’t really anywhere further that he could take it. Plus, he also has other things he wants to do, like his stand-up, for which he was taping *two* TLLS shows on Thursdays so that he could fly somewhere to do a show or two and be back and ready for TLLS on Monday. Yes, we miss TLLS too, but as adults we have to realize that he needs to do what’s right for himself, not what *we* want him to do.

      • TVWhiz says:

        No, Craig didn’t depart because he was ‘tired of it’. You do know that two-show taping on Thursdays is an industry standard that’s been happening for decades, right? Rough schedules? Check out Drew Carey’s additional gig participation outside of TPIR. And how dare you compare his reasoning running parallel with Jon Stewart! Stewart had the respect and clout to seek his true market value which, by many talent analysts, was being grossly under-utilized.

        Craig was well-paid, had free creative run of his own show and worked comedic genius magic in a slot that offered up very little in the way of A and B-listers.If you can’t follow the breadcrumb trail to Ferguson’s announcement in conjunction with Colbert getting Letterman’s time slot then you shouldn’t be writing on an entertainment comment section.

        It’s nice to see a well-written review on the webs for Join or Die. As painful as it us to us Craig Ferguson loyalists, this show will not survive on History Channel. HC has banked heavily on some attempt to draw in a different element to their demographic. Giving JoD a Vikings lead-in is about as strong a commitment to this catastrophe as HC can offer but ultimately, it won’t change how bad this format is. Think Pawnography and you’ll see where JoD’s fate lies.

    • Doc Simmins says:

      He WAS “forced out”. CBS had no intention of giving him the 1130 show.

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