Joel McHale, Mike Colter (Screenshot: Netflix)

“My God, this changes one thing.”

That’s the last joke of The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale, as—you guessed it—host Joel McHale, having presented a strikingly familiar half-hour of reality TV mockery and genial snarkiness, spots a familiar face. And body. It’s a hairy fellow in an unnecessarily revealing bathing costume, who McHale greets as “Manki—,” before being cut off and prevented from infringing upon E!’s intellectual property. It would appear that Mankini One Piece Man (for such is now his name, played by former The Soup writer turned The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale writer, Dominic DeLeo) is just one of the elements of McHale’s old series to make the leap to Netflix. It’s a winking capper to this streaming simulacrum of The Soup that changes essentially nothing of substance, but remains as disposably winning as ever.

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Sure, there are a few new wrinkles in the “watch a ridiculous clip and make fun of it” formula in this first of what’s to be a 13-episode season. McHale—sporting a relaxed-fit denim wardrobe and the same twinkly asshole shtick that made him a pre-Community star—still culls the most mockable content from reality and talk shows and internet clips. But he and his writers (and executive producer Paul Feig) have also set their sights across the seas this time out, with an emphasis in this first outing on content from places as far afield as South Africa, “Regular Africa,” and South Korea. (Whose soap operas, a montage hilariously demonstrates, have a whole “people getting graphically creamed by cars” theme that’s worth looking into.) And McHale’s new network home provides a fresh target for the comic’s genially impertinent punching-up (the show-starting ‘bum-bum” sound effect plays every time the net’s name is mentioned), along with plenty of cameos from McHale’s new network co-denizens. During a backstage tour of what McHale dubs “The legendary ‘what’s that smell?’ district,” Luke Cage’s Mike Colter helpfully offers his services opening everyone’s pickle jars, while fellow Netflix-ians and former Community pals Alison Brie and Jim Rash do a funny bit bearing the brunt of McHale’s thoughtless jackassery. (“Fuck, I miss Chevy,” deadpans Brie after McHale calls her “Gillian.”)

Joel McHale, Jim Rash, Alison Brie (Screenshot: Netflix)

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But The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale is all about—wait for it—Joel McHale, and for fans of the once and possibly future Jeff Winger, McHale’s return to his reality TV-mocking roots provides all the unfiltered Joel McHale they could ask for. While the idea of McHale scurrying back to the safety of his breakout success in the wake of the failure of his largely unheralded Community follow-up The Great Indoors is hard to disregard completely, The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale largely defuses such criticism with cheery self-awareness. McHale makes plenty of jokes about the essentially inessential nature of taking apart completely inessential reality shows and the like—and his own part in the enterprise. After Colter sighs, “It finally happened. [Netflix] ran out of ideas,” McHale beams into the camera, “Yes. Yes they did.”

Kevin Hart, Joel McHale (Photo: Greg Gayne/Netflix)

Apart from their Community connection, there was an aptness to McHale’s casting as Chevy Chase in the recent Doug Kenney Biopic, A Futile And Stupid Gesture. Like Chase before him, McHale dials up a self-impressed anti-comic persona to spotlight the ridiculousness of both the world of dummies around him, and the very act of doing so itself. What McHale has that Chase increasingly lacked during his long career is an equally skeptical perspective on himself, making McHale’s Chase-inspired schtick go down much easier. (Something that can’t be said for someone like Daniel Tosh, whose own The Soup-aping series sees comic smirking taken to punchable extremes.) Even the ironically self-aggrandizing title of McHale’s show carries long-ago echoes of Chase’s SNL catchphrase, “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not,” although McHale’s beaming braggadocio comes bearing its own self-targeting punchline.

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Indeed, Joel McHale is comfortably at home here as Joel McHale, snapping off jokes at the expense of table-flipping, vapidly confessional entertainments like The Bachelor, Love & Hip Hop: Miami, and the like with his breezily confident to-camera mugging. In his enjoyable return, the ever-present green screen nimbus surrounding McHale as he roasts the already-overheated dregs of exceedingly expendable TV seems to wink right along with the host’s undeniable charm, making McHale’s sarcastic skewering as amiably fun as ever.

Stray observations

  • “This might stop being funny a couple of times, but don’t worry, it circles back.”
  • There is actually one final joke, in the form of an end theme that mocks Netflix’s irritating disregard for end titles. It’s the sort of cheeky feeding-hand biting that’s right in McHale’s wheelhouse.
  • Other guest stars on this series premiere: Fuller House’s Jodie Sweetin (calling McHale’s relatively tentative 13-episode order “cute”); Rory Scovel (taking a couple of smacks to the face from Feig); Jason Priestley (doing some good-sported self-mockery while plugging his new ION show), Kevin Hart (waking up the sleeping McHale to get the show rolling); and Paul Reiser (chilling in the Upside Down, which hosts Netflix’s auxiliary snack table).

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