'Full Frontal With Samantha Bee' Isn't Good For A Woman, It's Just Damn Good
Not sure if you already know this or not, but Samantha Bee is a woman. Yes, a woman, who now hosts the weekly late-night show Full Frontal With Samantha Bee on TBS. To kick off Monday night's premiere, Bee took on this idea that she's a woman head on, holding a press conference where she received many, many, many questions that started or ended with the phrase "as a woman." Her response to how she got to where she is as a woman hosting her own late night show: "We're all witches." Sure, to many, Bee may seem like the one girl breaking into the late night boys' club, but that's not how Bee sees herself. As a woman, she'd like America to know that her anatomy isn't what is going to make her stand out; it's the conviction behind every one of her jokes. And, on her first night, it was made very clear Bee's not interested in an easy laugh. She's going for the jugular.
During her days at The Daily Show, Bee was the correspondent who loved taking on those people self-righteous enough to try and limit other people's rights. Basically, if you want to underestimate someone by their gender, color of their skin, or sexual orientation, she'd like to show you why that's a very bad idea. It's the basic premise behind her Full Frontal segment "Elected Paperweight Of The Month," which, this time around, focuses on Kansas State Senator Mitch Holmes, who recently tried to enact a dress code that only applied to women. Using footage of Cher's "Turn Back Time," Bee joked that he may be right, before dry heaving on set over Holmes' apology that said the dress code was really "out of respect" for the women in his workplace and the wives of men who worked there.
Here, Bee's approach isn't much different than fellow Daily Show acolyte John Oliver, who likes to take on the role of outsider to flesh out some of the biggest problems in our government. The jokes are funny, but they're also factual. Bee's not making fun of anyone who doesn't deserve it. Holmes, as she pointed out, was the senator of a state that had to close its schools early because it didn't have adequate funds. The struggle for good politicians is real, and Bee wants you to know about it. There are traces of Bill Maher in her don't-give-a-damn approach towards the people and topics she's covering, even bringing out a noose when talking about Ted Cruz's win at the Iowa caucus to make clear how she really feels about him. But she's more refined than the Real Time host will ever be, making it feel less like she's talking down to us from her high-minded liberal pedestal and more like we're all in this together. More like she's nudging us and saying, "Can you believe these guys?"
There's also a through-line from Bee's show to The Nightly Show with Larry Whitmore, which was the first news satire to be hosted by an African-American, in its way of focusing on topics that may get glossed over by her competitors. Whitmore, by far, did the best coverage surrounding #BlackLivesMatter, perhaps because he was closest to it. Or maybe he was just brave enough to talk about it. Bee certainly seems brave enough to call out politicians for some of their less than stellar takes on women's issues, specifically going hard on Marco Rubio's comments at the last Republican debate where he said more people need to question Hillary Clinton's support for abortions, even all the way up to the due date. "That is literally the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Bee said. "Removing a baby on its due date isn't an abortion; it's a cesarean."
But, for all the similarities I've just mentioned, Full Frontal is all Samantha Bee. While people were trying to figure out if a woman was up to the task of entering the very testosterone-fueled late night world, it seemed like those same people forgot that being the first also means there's nothing holding you back. There's no rule guide or road map to how a show like hers needs to be done. And that's what makes Bee's show so special. She seems like she's having fun figuring out what this could be, which could literally be anything. In its first episode, she managed to critique the presidential candidates of both parties with a sharp tongue, call out a Kansas senator, and shoot a Werner Herzog-like short film about Jeb Bush's attempt to rally the troops in New Hampshire. That last moment gave us the great analogy from a Bush supporter that Jeb is like milk, a drink that "wouldn't be fantastic, if you could choose any drink, but it's a solid drink to have."
If Bee was a drink, she'd probably be a Negroni, a gin cocktail that is bitter, sweet, and not for the faint of heart (or liver). With her debut, Bee showed us that she's not afraid to be bold or challenge those who are in power. She's also mad as hell, and she doesn't want to take it anymore. Luckily, she doesn't have to, because she's got a platform where she can lay it all out for us. Not as a woman, no, but as a human being who just wants to make us laugh about all the crazy stuff going on around us.