With the rise of social media, late-night comedy TV has been the quickest to corral social media in an effort to attract viewers, particularly in those desirable younger demos. Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien and others have proven fairly savvy in using Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit et al to involve fans. But @Midnight is working on a whole new level. Hosted by Chris Hardwick, emperor of the Nerdist brand and exuberant emcee for a host of programs including AMC’s much-derided “Talking X” series, it’s a social-media themed gameshow that feels like you’re having your face pressed up against the Internet.
@Midnight obviously isn’t the first TV show to cast an askance glance at the Internet. But unlike Tosh.0 or Hardwick’s old Web Soup, @Midnight is pitched in the late-night talk show genre. It’s actually a game show, always with a panel of three comedians, airing after Comedy Central’s reliable 11 o’clock block of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. They prove kind of an odd lead-in—while Colbert has always used the Internet to his advantage, Jon Stewart is especially Twitter-resistant. But I assume the demos lined up well enough for Comedy Central to take a flyer on Hardwick’s show, which, if nothing else, must be incredibly cheap to produce.
The premise is devastatingly simple, but would still be gobbledygook to a large portion of the country. Hardwick sets up a bunch of Internet gags for his comedians, and they have to knock them down for points, awarded in a vaguely consistent manner (often Hardwick will just scream “POINTS!” anytime the audience laughs at something). Comedians might have to invent a funny hashtag, leave an Amazon review, so on, so forth. It’s just a vehicle for Hardwick and his compatriots to deliver as many one-liners as humanly possible.
Hardwick is, as ever, an exuberant and endlessly positive host, a fountain of good vibes and encouragement. His insistently chipper attitude has turned some sour, but I find it hard to hate on a guy who’s doing his damnedest to make sure everyone has a good time. Hardwick’s other advantage is that he’s a consummate TV professional. He’s been hosting TV since the mid-’90s (we all remember Singled Out, but only the lucky ones remember Shipmates) and he’s apparently been running @Midnight test shows live around L.A. with his stand-up comedian buddies for the last few months. It shows. @Midnight runs very smoothly, bounces from bit to bit seamlessly, and spends very little time explaining any of its premises or setting up its segments. You’re either gonna get it or you won’t.
I’m an alt-comedy nerd who listens to a ton of podcasts, and @Midnight is definitely part of this first wave of alt-comedy podcast stars getting their own TV shows (along with Comedy Bang! Bang!, Maron and The Pete Holmes Show, which starts next week). Hardwick has already tried out his Nerdist show on BBC America, and this feels like his second proper attempt at translating his personality for a wider viewing audience. He’s got the zippy tone down, and the fun comedy clubhouse vibe, but the gameshow format of the show feels strict and repetitive. There’s not much room for everyone to play around with a joke for more than a few seconds. I never got bored watching the first four nights of the show, but I was never gripped, either. It’s a show you can have on in the background, although it’s pretty heavy on the shouting, so it’s not really something to fall asleep to.
Still, as a podcast dork, it’s exciting to see Hardwick introduce his guests, like Kumail Nanjiani, as “the host of The Indoor Kids podcast!” There’s a weird sense of next-level legitimacy that comes with hearing that. And Hardwick’s strong association with the L.A. comedy scene is probably the biggest strength @Midnight has in its corner.
His first week of panelists were Nanjiani, Natasha Leggero, Doug Benson, Kurt Braunohler, Andy Daly, Brendon Walsh, June Diane Raphael, James Adomian, Mike Lawrence, Kyle Kinane, Deon Cole and Thomas Lennon. There’s not a dud among them, and there’s so many more excellent comedians he can call on to fill the panel every week. @Midnight is never, ever going to be must-see viewing, but if you need an easy one-liner fix, it can probably deliver in that regard.