E!’s Friday-night favorite The Soup has all-but-perfected the art of cherry-picking the lowlights of a week’s worth of trash TV and presenting it in a package that’s cohesive, coherent and funny. Their “lone guy stands on a skimpy set and makes puckishly ironic comments about video excerpts” model has now superseded VH1’s “assorted comedians and semi-celebs spew sarcasm about everything that crosses their view-screen regardless of actual quality” model. One of the reasons I prefer The Soup to pretty much every one of those VH1 clipfests is that The Soup has a more carefully constructed point-of-view, personified and delivered by the focused, likable Joel McHale. The VH1 bunch has always seemed like they’d mock anything for a paycheck, whether they had an actual opinion about it or not. Whereas McHale and his writing staff actually appear to care about what they’re attacking—and why.
Over the past year, The Soup has introduced official spin-offs: the fashion-focused The Dish, the sports-themed Sports Soup, and just recently the “look at this nutty thing we found on YouTube” round-up Web Soup. The latter is interesting for two reasons: first because so many other low-budget basic-cable outfits have tried turning free web-originated entertainment into cheap programming, with little success; and second because Web Soup premiered on June 7th, just three days after Comedy Central debuted its own Soup-esque web video aggregator, Tosh.0.
How do these show stack up against each other? And how do they stack up against The Soup? Let’s break it down:
Web Soup. The stumbling block for most Soup-wannabes has usually been their hosts, who are bound to have a tough time measuring up to McHale’s exact mix of quippy and casual. Web Soup’s Chris Hardwick—the former host of MTV’s Singled Out, and a stand-up comic who’s toured with McHale—comes closest to the McHale ideal, though over the first few episodes of the show he’s come off maybe a fraction too antic and self-amused. Still, he’s agreeable enough, and seems likely to find his own rhythm over time. Of greater concern at the moment is the content of the show, which leans so heavy on older, familiar viral videos that it’s hard not to wonder if the web really isn’t an endless source of ripe comic material. This is a problem previous YouTube-derived anthology shows have faced as well: How to get people to spend half an hour watching clips they’ve already seen on their computers. But it’s here where Web Soup—with its strict adherence to The Soup franchise formula—has an edge, since it’s offering more than just repurposed footage. The clips come fast, and are broken down into categories, linked together by jokes that repeat from week to week. (Hardwick’s favorite appears to be making a snide comment and then high-fiving a disembodied hand on the left of the screen, with a quick, “Up top!”) Some obvious thought has gone into the intros, which are frequently funny in and of themselves—introducing a Bibleman clip last week, Hardwick said, “It’s hard to get kids to read… even Christian kids, and they only have to read one book”—and like The Soup, Web Soup breaks up its rapid-fire clip-assault with some whimsical sketches. (My favorite thus far: A fake commercial for The Goatee Saver, with the testimonial, “I enjoy being mistaken for a major league baseball player!”) Given that The Soup itself used to tackle viral videos, there’s probably no need for Web Soup to exist, but it’s better than The Dish and Sports Soup, and since it airs on Sunday nights it wraps up the weekend as neatly as The Soup kicks it off.
Tosh.0. Though it ostensibly covers the same ground as Web Soup, the decidedly edgier Tosh.0 is less married to the formula of clip-joke-clip-joke-sketch. Tosh.0 features fewer clips and more original content: some of which is provided by viewers, and some with the help of visiting celebrities. Each episode thus far has also been anchored by a bit called “Web Redemption,” where host Daniel Tosh allows someone who’s been famously humiliated on-line—AfroNinja, Miss South Carolina, etc.—to give their big moment a second try. Tosh.0 is more topical and participatory—to the extent that Tosh’s attempts to kickstart web trends and increase viewer input comes off as a little desperate at times—and it’s far more driven by the personality and opinions of the host. If I’m more hesitant towards Tosh.0 than I am towards Web Soup, it’s only because I’m not sure what to make of Daniel Tosh. I think he can be very funny—especially in the segments where he fires jokes at the screen as quickly as he can, and the ones where he breaks down viral videos second by second—but he can also be insufferably smug, and when he cracks jokes that rag on the likes of Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia, I feel like it’s a case of the pot calling out the kettle. Also, Tosh (or his show’s producers) are way more amused by people vomiting than I tend to be. Still, this show has its own take on the world wide web—at once condescending and affectionate—that makes it something other than just a Soup clone. I’m probably more entertained by Web Soup, but more impressed with Tosh.0’s ambition.
Web Soup airs on G4 on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. eastern; Tosh.0 airs Thursday nights (tonight!) at 10 p.m. eastern. Both are frequently re-run throughout the week. And both reward a minimal expenditure of time with a few moments per week that are genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny. Neither are essential, but both are worth giving a try.