Twitter is a horrible wasteland. I think most people would agree that we’d be better off without a site where Russian robots and self-published authors can argue with 140-character glee. There’s a lot to complain about when it comes to the platform, but there is one gift that Twitter gave the world: Black Twitter.
Black Twitter is so real it has its own Wikipedia page. Black Twitter is where memes are made. It’s where relevant culture is made. It’s communal, hilarious and special. It feels like finally being with friends you can just relax around because they get where you’re coming from (most of the time). Why do I bring this up? Because The Rundown With Robin Thede feels like Black Twitter: The TV Show and that’s absolutely a good thing.
Created by the team that brought us Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and produced by Chris Rock, The Rundown with Robin Thede has no problem standing out in the crowded late-night landscape. Given her background in Chicago improv and her start at The Second City, it’s not surprising that Thede is an incredibly charismatic figure. As head writer on The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore, her work was some of the best the show had to offer. There’s a difference, however, in anchoring an entire show.
While Wilmore couldn’t land on a format that best suited his skills, The Rundown gives Thede the freedom to really feel the material. A late-night show is only as strong as the host and Thede didn’t convey any debut jitters here, seamlessly transitioning from Eminem to Jemele Hill to brain damage in the NFL with effortless timing. But, that’s only half of the charm she brings as a host. Unlike any other host currently on late-night, Thede understands social media and Twitter.
Her reactions are sharp and GIF-able. The segments are compact and informational; ready to be consumed in your news feed the next day. Instead of feeling like a desperate reach at relevance, it feels realistic. Thede knows that’s exactly where her audience is going to see this content; not on a TV with cable with commercials. The Rundown is a late-night show for a generation that’s tired of white men doing the same thing every night. While it does follow some traditional aspects of a late-night show, it updates the formula by throwing in a cold open and a pop-up bodega concert performance.
The performances gives the show an opportunity to showcase new talent that you wouldn’t see on traditional shows. I had never heard of Duckwrth, an up-and-coming rapper from Los Angeles. He’s only released one album and has a relatively small social following. It’s a bold choice for the show to give its premiere performance to someone so fresh, but that’s precisely the Black Twitter ethos the show is trying to recreate.
The most important aspect of that ethos is remaining evergreen; they have to know the latest trending topics and conversations. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver makes fun of itself for being a bit behind mainstream news given its filming schedule, but that wouldn’t work for a weekly show like The Rundown. If The Rundown is going to work, it has to take on the most recent Twitter hashtags and viral videos. It mostly succeeds at doing that. The show’s opening sketch made a joke of how far Thede would go to get the attention of an incredibly attractive Trump supporter. It was cute and Thede sold the joke when she finds out the man is married, but it didn’t seem quite connected to the show’s overall tone. The opening monologue was easily the episode’s best segment. Even though Eminem’s BET cypher happened only Tuesday, The Rundown had a take on the situation that didn’t feel hastily written or repetitive.
Host-driven shows are hard. It’s normal to accept that new hosts will need time to feel comfortable in front of the camera. Trevor Noah needed time to make The Daily Show his own. Stephen Colbert has had a few stumbles as he navigates his politics in front of a general audience. On the other hand, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee quickly found its footing and was critically-acclaimed from the start. Bee was the first woman to host a late-night satire show. Robin Thede is the first black woman to host a late-night variety show since 2011. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re “the first” or “the only” minority in a field. There’s an inevitable weight that gets placed on your shoulders. Full Frontal used those expectations to thrive. The Rundown uses a similar energy to toe the line between sharp, smart political observations and Twitter jokes you actually want to retweet.
- That green velvet suit Thede wore was absolutely amazing. Her charm in front of the camera was only aided by her ability to pull that look off.
- I suspect the show will make format changes as it goes on, but this was an impressive premiere. None of the segments fell flat or lost the show’s energy.
- Okay, the people in the bodega did look way too staged. It was an incredibly cute performance though.
- Seriously, Robin Thede might be my new late-night crush based on her dance moves alone.