Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Meltdown Show With Jonah And Kumail: “The One With The Replacement Hosts”

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Meltdown Show With Jonah And Kumail returned to Comedy Central tonight for its second season, with guests Hampton Yount, Cameron Esposito, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, and Andy Daly joining co-hosts Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray in the Meltdown Comics’s Nerdmelt Showroom. Right off the bat, Ray and Nanjiani burst out on stage with their dynamic energy and endearing best-friends chemistry, with Nanjiani initiating a bit about, well, Hitler. The season two premiere barrels through at full throttle, and there’s plenty to laugh about, but sometimes that supercharged pace holds Meltdown back by not really giving the comedy some space to breathe and sink in.

Meltdown is most limited by its format. As a half-hour program, there’s very little time to get to each of the acts, let alone the additional host riffing and behind-the-scenes green room moments on top of the lineup. Sometimes it can feel like a guest is just hitting their stride when it’s suddenly time to switch to the next act.

The season two premiere finds itself in a bit of a timing pickle. On the one hand, some of the extras are the best parts of the show. The green room moments, in particular, are fun because those are the parts that you don’t get when you’re just at the live version of Meltdown. Plus, Meltdown executive producer Emily V. Gordon is one of the most consistently delightful facets of the show, and she only really exists in these parts when the cameras dip away from the stage and into the green room. There’s a great candid moment in the season two premiere when Gordon asks Esposito who she’s wearing (Urban Outfitters’s men’s section and a vintage vest found on the road). But while I would love a whole lot more of these peeks behind the curtain, sometimes they mess too much with the flow.

Thankfully, there’s only one clear example of this flow disturbance in the season two premiere. Partway through Esposito’s set, the show cuts to the green room to show Nanjiani setting up Glazer and Jacobson for their bit. It’s not an unfunny moment, but it definitely undercuts the momentum of Esposito’s set. I’ve seen Esposito live more than I have any other stand-up comedian. I know her point of view. I know that when you see her live, she ignites this kind of fire within you that makes you want to jump to your feet by the time she’s done. She shouts; she bursts with confidence; she puts the punch in punchlines. But that energy doesn’t always translate fluidly to the screen. She doesn’t have a whole lot of time to build with this Meltdown set, but I think time is less of a problem than the editing is. That one little break to the green room does more damage than good, and it’s unfortunate, because while Esposito’s set plays well, I just have a very strong feeling that it played even better live, uninterrupted.

And then there are some more effective editing moments, like when Daly breezes past Jacobson and Glazer and says he’s going to write a bit that fits his cowboy outfit (and then we later see that that’s exactly what he did). When Glazer and Jacobson pretend to be Nanjiani and Ray, respectively, and end up talking about how much they love their beautiful, smart, strong wives, we cut to the green room for an adorable, quick kiss between Gordon and Nanjiani.

Overall, Meltdown’s quest is a noble one. Nanjiani, Ray, and Gordon are really trying to capture the intimacy and warmth of a live comedy show on television. And in many ways, they’re successful, especially when Nanjiani and Ray really sink into their crowdwork and between-acts riffing. And Meltdown is best at its weirdest. Yount’s set is the only really straightforward one of the premiere, and it’s no coincidence that it’s also one of the weaker acts. Because of the limited time they have to work with, the comedians who come to Meltdown with specific, weird bits usually do the best. I’ve heard Esposito’s period bit before, but the jelly donuts add an extra something special. Jacobson and Glazer’s impressions of Nanjiani and Ray are undoubtedly the highlight of the episode. And even though Daly’s poet laureate of the West character doesn’t quite stick the landing, it’s the kind of bizarre, experimental humor that suits Meltdown best.


Stray observations:

  • The first summer I lived in Los Angeles, I rarely missed Meltdown. Watching the show always takes me back to that place and the weird, unabashedly nerdy atmosphere of the live show. While I find the TV format somewhat limiting, I always appreciate that sense of nostalgia the series stirs up for me.
  • I love Esposito’s period bit, because I’m pretty sure it’s the number one fear/complaint of comedy dudebros that female comedians are going to talk about their periods, to which I have to say: So the fuck what?! It takes Yount all of 10 seconds before he’s miming a jerk-off motion on stage, a visual gag I’ve had to sit through more times than I can keep track of, so I’ll take Esposito talking about period chunks any day of the week, thank you.
  • Glazer feels 100-percent comfortable in Nanjiani’s clothing, obviously.
  • Glazer and Jacobson can probably talk about anything and make it hilarious. Very little prep went into their impressions, and they still crush it.