“The Soup” during the Joel McHale era offered a reprieve from the silly and ridiculous on television (on E!, of all places). The explosion of reality television in the 2000s especially cried out for mockery. “The Soup” happily and successfully took on the challenge.
I was excited to see the format would return on Netflix with “The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale,” especially since they planned to get most of “The Soup” band back together for it.
Anyone who loved the McHale version of “The Soup” will feel right at home with “The Joel McHale Show.” It’s a mostly clip-based show featuring the best and worst of reality, home shopping, and international TV. Breaking up the clips are guest stars and bits from the show itself. It’s the perfect format for McHale, who is clearly comfortable (if less acerbic than before) in this setting.
It didn’t land for me initially. Something felt off. It seemed less relevant, and my enjoyment suffered as a result. Part of “The Soup’s” appeal was its mocking mostly familiar garbage, be it “Cops,” “America’s Next Top Model,” or Maury Povich’s show. The first five episodes of “The Joel McHale Show” aimed at more obscure television, admittedly an almost unavoidable scenario with the dramatic growth and fragmentation of the TV landscape.
The show riffed on bits from heavyweights like “The Bachelor” and “American Idol,” but it didn’t lean towards the familiar nearly as much. “Tosh.0” runs on clips the audience may have never seen. “The Soup” served as a shared experience. “The Joel McHale Show” should do the same.
The Sunday airdate doesn’t help. “The Soup’s” Friday night show provided an end-of-the-week unwinding that the Netflix version loses on Sundays.
The constant guest stars didn’t help much either, with their abundance and shoehorned promotions, of which the forced Netflix promos are the worst. That’s also to say nothing of executive producer Paul Feig, who isn’t nearly funny enough to appear as often as he does.
I worried that my age or status as a Millennial Cord-CutterTM hindered my enjoyment. I might be too culturally isolated now. Maybe everyone watches “Vanderpump Rules” and Netflix’s own “Ultimate Beastmaster” except me. Perhaps web culture rendered this show obsolete. The Internet covers a ridiculous scene on “The Bachelor” from every possible angle the day (even minutes) after it airs. “The Joel McHale Show” needs to work that much harder to rise above the noise, something it failed to do with its consent-based “Bachelor” sketch.
Fortunately, recent episodes have mostly allayed my fears. The likes of “Maury” and “Survivor” feature more prominently. VH1’s “Love and Hip Hop” works better as a garnish instead of the main course. The clips from foreign TV always offer something, especially in contrast to popular American television.
While it so far lacks a standout “Spaghetti Cat” or “It’s Miley!” running joke that “The Soup” employed so well, “Pizza Ghost” comes close. “The Last Clip Of The Entire Show That’s Also Pretty Funny” and ever-changing end credits bookend the show properly.
It’s possible the writing just isn’t as sharp. Or I’m just too jaded about bad television. But I’m hoping the show and its host just have to find their feet again. “The Joel McHale Show,” like “The Soup,” works best as a collective catharsis. It’s not quite there yet, but it looks to be headed in the right direction.