After the premiere of FX’s “Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell” — a half-hour satirical talkshow — I decided to give the program a longer look before weighing in, to see if it registered more clearly upon further exposure, and with a less show-carrying guest than exec producer Chris Rock.
Bell is clever, but he still looks uncomfortable on camera. His topical riffs are pretty funny, but because the show is so static and limited, both the openings and the taped bits have a way of dragging on, like his barbs last week at the expense of Vice President Joe Biden, insistence Barack Obama really is the President of Black America or predictable lampooning of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments about rape and abortion.
After two segments of comedy, Bell brings out a guest. Rock, bless him, was a riot in week one, but having one of the best comics around to carry the load obscured what MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Alex Wagner couldn’t — namely, Bell really isn’t an interviewer, and the dialogue is squishy.
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That’s hardly a fatal flaw — interviews aren’t always Jon Stewart’s forte either — but lacking the support system “The Daily Show” provides, having a real conversation would help ease the pressure to fill the half-hour with scripted comedy. I’d also question the wisdom of joking about a shooting at the Family Research Council a few days after that happened, which skirted close to the line of poor taste.
Bell shows promise in this role, and Fox will give the series an assist by repeating the latest episode on Saturuday night. The sparse production values, however, do him no favors, and he could use some regular features to help fill out the program. As is, the show delivers sporadic laughs but still feels like a long sit, even at a half-hour.
Smart comedy with a clear point of view is always welcome, so there’s reason to hope “Totally Biased” can work out the kinks — and maybe graduate to a space that doesn’t look like the back of an equity-waiver theater. As of now, though, it’s at best half a series — and if there’s any bias in that assessment, it’s of the charitable kind.