You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman’ on Netflix

The late-night legend returns to television with a six-part series interviewing high-profile newsmakers

David Letterman

Mostly, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” is about David Letterman’s beard. The bushy protuberance is a 6-to-8 inch addition to Letterman’s face, and seems to be the threshold between the host of “The Late Show” — who retired in 2015 — and the roving, eccentric interviewer he has since become. Letterman’s CBS persona didn’t have room for the beard, and whatever the beard might represent. His Netflix persona has so much facial hair it’s a topic of conversation. President Barack Obama jokes about it, as does Letterman’s second interviewee, George Clooney; Letterman mocks it himself while at home with Clooney’s parents in Augusta, Ky. (I don’t know yet if Malala Yousafzai, his guest for the third episode airing in March, has the same sense of humor — but I wouldn’t put it past her.) It’s like the beard is a wardrobe change, an icebreaker, and the elephant in the room; to notice the beard is to notice that Letterman, in 2018, has changed.

“My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” will debut new hourlong episodes monthly — starting with this morning’s premiere episode, featuring Letterman’s interview with former President Obama. (Future episodes will feature Yousafzai, Tina Fey, Jay Z, and Howard Stern.) It’s a coup for the show, and for Netflix, to have snagged Obama’s first talk show interview since his departure from office. It’s also a high bar to set with the first episode of a new series; Obama is such an unlikely, singular interview subject. But at least a few things are immediately evident. First, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” is going long: An hourlong episode means a lot of facetime with a guest, even if the interviews are broken up with produced segments. Second, Letterman’s Netflix series is almost entirely about private citizens acting for the public good. His emphasis in speaking to Obama is not about the reach of public office as much as it is about how change of any sort ends up arising from the actions of interested individuals. Clooney’s episode, which would otherwise be a cut-and-dry Hollywood profile, takes a surprising turn when Letterman visits Clooney’s hometown and meets the young, painfully earnest Iraqi refugee they helped resettle.

And maybe most importantly, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” is Letterman’s repudiation of Trumpism — in the form that he is most comfortable in, in a medium that he is, arguably, a master of. To be sure, it’s hard to make anything that is even remotely high-minded that isn’t a repudiation of Trump — that bar is so very low, and getting lower. But Letterman makes no bones about it, especially in the first episode: The episode draws a contrast between the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. and the march from Selma, Ga. to Montgomery, Ala. led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965. Obama wouldn’t quite be drawn into the discussion of Trumpism that Letterman clearly was hoping to have, but he’s happier to discuss the far-reaching significance of the march. Letterman’s interview with Obama is intercut with segments where he walks across the Edmund Pettus bridge with Congressman John Lewis — and though Obama wouldn’t talk about Trump, Lewis is certainly game to. Reading between the lines of both his presentations and his lineups, Letterman in his new show has assembled a roster of humanity that Donald Trump, and his administration, are usually trying to undermine, dismiss, or disenfranchise: Refugees, black men, outspoken women, and Howard Stern.

There are drawbacks to the format. Letterman’s access still has limits, and the celebrity guests ensure that the interviews retain a bit of the fluffy sweetness of broadcast TV. It seems highly likely that there are thorny topics his high-profile guests rule out, and the fact that the episodes were taped last fall mean that the questions can feel a bit stale. It was surprising to see that Clooney’s episode had no mention of of the #MeToo moment, for example — and that one won’t be airing until February. And the length of the episodes isn’t quite justified by the material, which is candid but not necessarily groundbreaking. With so many podcasts and talk shows out there, it’s hard to make a case for another interview show — but then again, the draw with “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” is not that they are interviews, but that Letterman and his individual subjects will nab viewers. Fans of Letterman might miss his zanier bits — regrettably, nothing is thrown off a roof — and there’s a ceiling on how many times rich men can joke about how they don’t know what to do with their free time before there needs to be a moratorium. But overall, Letterman’s new effort isn’t bad, and it’s great to see that beard getting the screentime it richly deserves.

TV Review: ‘My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman’ on Netflix

Talk show special, 6 episodes (2 reviewed): Netflix, Fri. Jan. 12. 60 min.

Crew: Executive producers, Justin Wilkes, Dave Sirulnick, Jon Kamen, Tom Keaney

Cast: David Letterman

More TV

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Blake Jenner What If TV Show

    'What/If' Star Blake Jenner on Creating Chemistry With Jane Levy, Renee Zellweger

    Blake Jenner first rose to fame in 2012 when he won “The Glee Project” and therefore earned a role on “Glee” proper. In the years since, though, he graduated from teen heartthrob status to meatier, edgier roles in films such as “American Animals” and now the Netflix limited series “What/If,” in which he stars opposite [...]

  • Mario Lopez Candy Crush

    Mario Lopez, Seth Kurland Set Latinx Family Comedy Series at Netflix

    Mario Lopez and Seth Kurland are teaming up for a new comedy series at Netflix. Variety has learned that the streamer has given a 16 episode order to the multi-cam comedy “The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia” co-created by Lopez and Kurland. In the series, when Ashley Garcia — the world’s only 15-and-a-half-year-old robotics engineer [...]

  • HBO logo

    TV News Roundup: HBO Announces Recipients of 2019 HBOAccess Writing Fellowship

    In today’s roundup, Fox Nation announces a fresh slate of programming for the summer and HBO announces the recipients of its HBOAccess Writing Fellowship. DEVELOPMENT: HBO has announced the recipients of its 2019 HBOAccess Writing Fellowship. The eight writers selected out of the 3,000 submissions will participate in an 8-month program of master classes and [...]

  • Big Bang Theory

    'Big Bang Theory,' 'Manifest' Among Top Live+7 Gainers of 2018-2019 Season

    With 2018-2019 broadcast season wrapping up, certain shows stand head and shoulders above their competition in the Nielsen Live+7 rankings. Live+7 data is currently available only through May 5, but the top dogs will likely see little change once the final numbers are in for the traditional September-May season. The top gainer in adults 18-49 [...]

  • Anna Kendrick Paul Feig

    Anna Kendrick, Paul Feig Team for Comedy Anthology Series at WarnerMedia Streaming Service

    Anna Kendrick and Paul Feig are coming to the WarnerMedia streaming service Variety has learned that the upcoming streamer has ordered the romantic comedy anthology series “Love Life,” the first season of which will star Kendrick with Feig executive producing. WarnerMedia has ordered a 10-episode first season of the half-hour series. Lionsgate Television and FeigCo [...]

  • Jon Feltheimer

    Lionsgate Posts Loss, Underperforms Wall Street Expectations

    Lionsgate has posted a quarterly loss and its revenues and operating income have come in under Wall Street projections, despite growth from its premium cable channel, Starz. The studio reported a net loss of $24 million, or 11 cents a share, with adjusted operating income of $103 million for its fourth fiscal quarter ended March [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content