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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Conan O'Brien

    Why Conan O'Brien Moved Beyond Late-Night TV

    When Conan O’Brien signed his latest deal with TBS, he didn’t just agree to keep his late-night talk show on the air for another four years. In addition to hosting “Conan,” he promised to create digital content, podcasting, live tours, and other forms of entertainment. It wasn’t just an attempt to make more money or [...]


    WWE's 'NXT' Moves to USA Network as Wrestling Competition Heats Up

    WWE has struck a deal to move its “NXT” franchise focusing on rising stars to USA Network starting next month. “NXT” will shift to USA from the WWE Network subscription streaming service as of Sept. 18. The deal comes as USA is about to lose WWE’s “SmackDown” showcase to Fox starting in October. USA is [...]

  • Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend Podcast

    Conan O'Brien on Podcasting and Why Late-Night TV Rivalries Are Over

    “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” is an irresistible mixture of philosophical discussions about art and life and pure zaniness. It’s a program from the late-night host turned podcasting ringmaster that defies easy characterization, and a show that manages to move seamlessly from moments of hilarity to unexpected instances of confession. In one episode, Jeff Goldblum [...]

  • Hollywood Recession Business Placeholder

    How an Economic Downturn Could Ravage Hollywood

    Trade-war fears, stock market volatility and, most recently, bond market signals that point to a pending recession are rattling investors, igniting concerns that another devastating downturn may be just around the corner. As those worries reverberate all the way from Wall Street to Hollywood, the entertainment industry is in for an unsettling reminder of the [...]

  • Apple TV Plus

    Apple TV Plus Will Cost $9.99 per Month, to Launch in November (Report)

    Apple is reportedly looking to launch the Apple TV Plus subscription-video service in November — around when Disney Plus is set to debut — for $9.99 per month. Apple TV Plus will bow in November with a “small selection” of shows, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources. At $9.99, which analysts have guessed would be the [...]

  • RuPaul Charles - Outstanding Reality -

    RuPaul Charles to Receive Variety's Vanguard Award at Mipcom

    “RuPaul’s Drag Race” leader RuPaul Charles has been tapped to receive the Variety Vanguard Award at the Mipcom international TV sales conference, set for Oct. 14-17 in Cannes. The award recognizes television industry leaders who have made a significant contribution to the global business of entertainment. Charles has hosted and executive produced the VH1 franchise “RuPaul’s Drag [...]

  • The Tempest review all female

    Harriet Walter Joins 'Killing Eve' as Third Season Begins Production

    British actress Harriet Walter has joined the cast of BBC America’s multi-award winning “Killing Eve” for its third season, which began production this week. Danny Sapani has also been announced to join the cast of the show, which stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. The Olivier Award-winning and Tony-nominated Walter recently finished production on Julian [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content