To quote Joel McHale’s interview with Variety, the difference between E!’s now-defunct “The Soup,” which McHale hosted for over 10 years, and Netflix’s new “The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale,” which debuted Sunday, is as follows: “Nothing.” “What’s going to be different about it is that Netflix has really nice studios and catering,” McHale quipped, adding that the green screen behind him, used to project the reality and unscripted television clips that he then tells deadpan jokes about, is a “totally different” color, like a “forest green” instead of a “kelly green.” The premiere episode of the new Netflix show, which will air weekly for its current 13-episode order, doesn’t even attempt to transition viewers to the new show; instead McHale launches into his format from “The Soup,” with a knowing grin at the audience.
“The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale,” like “The Soup,” is such a lazy cocktail party of a show — unerringly brilliant, but usually graceless — that it seems dated in 2018. With its bit-saturated format and weekly output, it seems like it should be a podcast (and indeed, there are many that have cropped up in the three years since “The Soup’s” cancellation). What distinguishes it is the snarky, superficial brand of postmodern commentary about reality show narratives and foreign soap operas’ recurring tropes, and it’s rewarding to see that again. But again and again, McHale reminds you that all the comedy the writing staff has to offer about these clips is barely elevated vulgarity. Almost every clip would be funnier if McHale just said nothing after airing it. In a bit from the premiere that must play well with teenage boys, McHale shows a clip from a South African soap opera, performed in Afrikaans, in order to marvel at the language’s word for child: “kunt.” McHale then takes full advantage of Netflix’s freedoms to repeat c*** several times. Because comedy.
There is still quite a bit of satisfaction to be found in the bizarre moments that make it to television, and viewers who like McHale’s style or “The Soup’s” brand of snark will find “The Joel McHale Show” a welcome return to form. The show tapes weekly, so there’s a nice recency to the material, and the show mocks Netflix with a lot of affection, in a poking way that feels like how “Saturday Night Live” makes fun of NBC. The clip show format is also easy to translate to other languages, which is an explicit priority for the streamer as it locks down its global markets. Presumably there is no accounting for taste in dozens of languages.