“The Problem With Jon Stewart” Review: “Daily Show” Host Returns

“The Problem With Jon Stewart” opens up both by listening to “The Daily Show” and by distancing himself from the Comedy Central show that once made Stewart an exasperated voice of reason for frustrated liberals across the country . Six years after handing over that office to Trevor Noah, Stewart is now returning to television as some sort of exhausted late-night elderly statesman. Answers to the larger questions surrounding his return – why now and for what? – need time to crystallize. In the meantime, “The Problem” begins by showing the audience a behind-the-scenes slice of Stewart and his new editorial team thinking about what exactly “The Problem” should look like.

Stewart, now grayer and more casual in a T-shirt compared to his crumpled “Daily Show” suit, asks his now smaller and more inclusive editorial staff of people with experience outside of being a white man at Harvard Lampoon, what this very show is. There’s a clear opportunity here – years after his landmark gig, with carte blanche on a streaming service like Apple TV Plus – for Stewart to do something completely different from anything he’s done before. Instead, it is reminiscent of the 2010 episode “Daily Show” in which they ditched the show’s typical format for Stewart to interview several 9/11 first responders whose health continued to suffer. “Let’s make the first act kind of a mall card – ‘you are here’ – for whatever problem we’re dealing with,” he says, suggesting that the second act (“or whatever”) be a table. round in which he can speak more directly with “stakeholders” about that particular issue. The “Daily Show” first responder panel was both unlike anything Stewart had done on the show before and has since become a pivotal moment in his career, so it’s not entirely surprising the hear her appear in the brainstorming process for her next televised chapter. But it’s interesting, at least, to watch him work on the question of what he can bring to the media in 2021 by exploring his own past for a candid and more personal approach. Stewart is well aware that bringing his point of view back to television, in an era when the media and the world are very different from those he left just six years ago, requires him to strike a delicate balance between use the “Daily Show”. nostalgia and twisting its own approach into a slightly different form.

After establishing his “mall map”, “The Problem with Jon Stewart” takes place over forty minutes that resemble Stewart’s “Daily Show” more than not. The oversized specific emphasis of these episodes is also inevitably reminiscent of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the HBO juggernaut who has Stewart’s former correspondent delivering dense and indignant weekly monologues every Sunday. At the premiere of “Last Week Tonight” in 2014, his weekly dives into a single thorny subject represented a significant creative turning point. Now it’s a hit and perennial Emmy favorite that’s become a roadmap for how late-night TV can grab attention without losing detail, and “The Problem” has clearly taken note of that. .

In the first episode of the series, Stewart uses his new platform to highlight a grave injustice which, he says with vague hope, could truly be “something bipartisan and uncontroversial.” That’s a bit of a surprising qualifier considering the first is titled “The War Problem,” but as the episode continues, it’s clear that a more accurate title would have been “Veterans “. You can draw a straight line from the “Daily Show” episode that Stewart highlighted in that premiere, especially since he invites several veterans and their partners to explain the simple and devastating truth about how the US government put them aside once they were no longer useful. . Given the title of the episode and the show’s emphasis on being a better citizen of the world, it might have been helpful to also consider the effects of “war” and the hearths. of burns on the people who already lived in these countries before the American troops took over. This does not quite fit the “bipartisan and uncontroversial” brief, however, and so it is not said.

Rather than tackle the overwhelming incompetence of the VA as a whole, Stewart organizes a frank, albeit abbreviated, discussion of the long-term health effects of “fireplaces,” the drastic measure used by US troops to burn all garbage while deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. He also ventures out of the studio as a correspondent – a role he’s never played on “The Daily Show” – to face Veterans Affairs Secretary Dennis McDonough, who is growing increasingly frustrated with the news. Stewart’s repeated request to say why, exactly, the bureaucracy should hold out. crucial health care. Unlike the Daily Show interviews, conducted by correspondents like Oliver and Stephen Colbert wearing hyperbolic characters, Stewart is entirely himself: firm, curious, and eager to shout bullshit when he sees them.

The second episode of “The Problem”, airing October 14, focuses on the even larger topic of “Freedom”. Stewart begins by poking fun at the continued anti-mask and anti-vaccine movements in the United States before speaking with dissidents from countries where personal freedom has become a precious commodity. These topics give Stewart more room to use true punchlines (the first episode’s serious sense of purpose leaves little room for levity), and even one of his signature exclamations, of “what the Shit? ”The interview panel – featuring an Egyptian comedian, a Venezuelan lawyer and a Filipino journalist – is no less structured than that of the veterans, but the episode also gives it more time and space to explore. the subject matter beyond its most basic points. “Freedom” at first glance seems to be a more natural choice for a series premiere than “War,” though this is likely because audiences know better where to laugh in the second. more impactful episode.

In both episodes, Stewart guides studio audiences from bits of straightforward comedy to heartfelt monologues and back again. Now speaking from behind a long wooden table while wearing a sweatshirt and bomber jacket instead of a costume, he sheds all the traps of parody to shrug his shoulders on an ostensibly laid back vibe that is nonetheless just as meticulously calculated as his “Daily Show” character. Stewart doesn’t just deliver news and jokes; he draws an even more direct parallel than ever between himself and his audience of equally exasperated citizens who fundamentally agree with what he has to say. As “The Problem” depends on the charisma of its host, it is also about including voices and perspectives from outside its hosts, whether in sporadic clips from the Writers’ Room or interviews with people. more directly invested in the subject in question. . Yet, as with any talk show, “The Problem” is more or less constructed to support Stewart’s own conclusions.

When first released, little “The Problem” seemed particularly surprising or brand new. Its most immediately compelling aspect, therefore, is the choppy roar of the undercurrent. While “The Daily Show” used Stewart’s prickly dissatisfaction as a comedic engine, his new show shines a light on him with more focused determination. It was almost then that he left the “Rally to restore sanity (and / or fear)” which he had organized years ago with Colbert and realized that such a restoration might require more than highlighting the obvious fact of a world gone mad. Even when “The Problem” indulges this impulse, her best moments have just overtaken her first “What the fuck ?!” Instinct to the bigger, more thorny question of “what now?” “

The first episode of “The Problem” is now available to stream on Apple TV Plus.

Javier E. Swan

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