Thursday, January 18, 2007

Colbert Vs. Papa Bear: The Report

I just happened to be at a friend's house to catch The Colbert Report tonight and happened upon an apparently much ballyhooed episode in which Stephen Colbert got his main man, Bill O'Reilly, to make a guest appearance. Monsieur Colbert played up the "crossover" showdown before, during and after. But the showdown itself came in with a reticent O'Reilly and went out with a whimper.

Maybe, just maybe, part of the satire is on those of us whose hopes or expectations for substance (WOW!), for swings (OUCH!), for knock out punches (BANG!) were raised. Colbert's got our yangs. He's even willing to be vacuous with the big dogs to get his themes of vapidity and vacuity across.

No swings connected, if those were swings. No BANG in that interview. In fact, beyond that one note satire of the media wasteland, far too many of Colbert's interview segments go out with a "huh" and a whimper. Bad boy Stephen mocks and parades O'Reilly's cut 'em off/box 'em in one-two punches, but it's a one horse show. He's so quick witted his less improvisational guests never get up the steam to swing back, as they do on The O'Reilly Factor. And even O'Reilly must have come to realize that his own show would not be so popular if his guests never got to get at least one of their two cents in edgewise.

Jon Stewart is the better interviewer of the two -- of the three -- whether for laughs or insight. Stewart is, of course, gentler and more respectful, but the main thing is he's less predictable than Colbert. And eventually, in the writers' meetings, Colbert's going to have to reckon with becoming predictable.

Colbert just dances around his guests like Wile E. Coyote with a good shoe shine and an extra dab of Brylcreem. In interviews, Colbert's dancing Coyote leaves his hapless roadrunners spinning in mid-air without the sort of traction that would make the interviews more compelling satire. Of course, the same goes for Bill O'Reilly to some extent. Hence the existence of Colbert's character, so the irony.

What did Colbert prove tonight? That he's quick on his feet and quicker out of his mouth. O'Reilly, beyond the puffed up confines of his FOX hole, was shown to be more of a quiet smirker than (highly paid and applauded) belligerent barker (for god sakes he's not a journalist). Big Bill needed crib notes, cue cards and a lot more caffeine.

Stephen's still got the hyper-caffeinated schtick worked into a froth, and for now, he's still the closest thing we have to a half hour of artful satire on TV. That's satire, high and low, inspired and droll.


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