If I were to ask you what shows young, intelligent, socially aware black people watch, what would your answers be? The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, of course. Maybe Rachel Maddow. Negroes love some Anderson Cooper too. Hell, I even think Ellen Degeneres might be getting some token black viewers during these summer months. There’s nothing wrong with any of these shows, but I’ve always found it rather strange that black audiences feel the need to flock to shows with white hosts. While these shows can nail racial commentary nine out of ten times, they’re still white people and their shows are still marketed mainly toward other white people. As Melissa Harris-Perry begins to catch on, I’m hoping for a new influx of smart, funny television shows marketed toward young, black viewers, a niche that has not been filled since Dave Chappelle took that fateful flight to Africa years ago (no, Wendy Williams and Tyra Banks do not count).
That’s where Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell comes in. The brainchild of national treasure Chris Rock, Totally Biased is one-part stand up comedy, one-part sketch comedy, and one-part talk show. It covers race, pop culture, current events, religion, and the media with critical analysis and snark in abundance. One his first episode, he goes in on some topics that have been burning up the black blogosphere for the past month or so (note: the black blogosphere is exactly like the regular blogosphere, except we don’t update as much and we’re allowed to use the word “yall” and still be professional). Bell tackles NBC’s highly side-eyeable coverage of Gabby’s Douglas’ gold medal victory, takes a second to explain to Mitt Romney the difference between Sheiks, Sikhs, Shaq, Shaq drinking shakes, and the Shake Shack, and theorizes ways to make NYC’s “Stop and Frisk” better for all involved, such as filling your pockets with sushi or winning a few Subway sandwich with each sixth stop.
This is the first episode, so were there some virgin jitters? A bit. Bell is at his best when he’s in freak out mode, finding some aspect of a story too ridiculous to fathom, such as when he covered NBC airing footage of a gymnastics performing monkey right after Gabby Douglas. He shows off fantastic comedic timing during his sarcastic moments as well, the biggest laugh of the first episode being when he airs a tweet suggesting that every black woman is criticizing Gabby Douglas’ hair and he wonders out loud if Eryka Badu and “Beyonce from Austin Powers” would be in that party. However, when the jokes turn serious, like when he comments that no matter the difference between Sikhs and Muslims, it’s not okay to kill either of them, it almost looks as if Bell isn’t quite comfortable trying to hit his audience with the feelings bomb. The interview segment was a bit aimless, but a lot of that probably had to do with his guest Chris Rock. The segment was very, very funny, but it was mostly a Chris Rock stand up routine. I’m sure Bell will be able to handle himself a bit better when he’s able to interview someone who’s not executive producing his show though.
Despite those early issues, I have confidence in this show, not because it’s perfect right now, but because we need it. No show is going to be perfect on its first time out of the gate. Even Seinfeld’s first episode is kind of shitty. As Bell finds his footing and his team continues to explore what they can do with their new platform, a very funny show will only get funnier. While watching it, I was reminded of other shows: Tosh.0, The Daily Show, and Conan mainly came to mind. The difference is that I was watching someone who looked like me. White people might not understand how huge of a factor that is, how much of a pleasant surprise it is to not only enjoy a show, but to feel represented in it as well. That’s why we need Bell and we need Totally Biased.
To catch the first episode again, tune into FX this Saturday night at 11pm. Wait, you won’t be home a Saturday night, will you? Fuck it, you’ve got DVR. Make sure you record it.