I have a few thoughts about Michelle Wolf’s new Netflix series, “The Break.”
Let’s start with my usual disclaimer that reviewing most TV or radio shows based on their first episode is not a reliable predictor of how they’ll do or what they’ll become. Sometimes it takes a while for its creative team to discover what works and what doesn’t, so it is usually a good idea to check back on the show a few months after the debut to see if it fixed what was wrong at the beginning and whether the strongest elements got even stronger.
Even though 99% of Americans didn’t see Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner (which I wrote about here), she got a lot of free publicity, just in time to debut her new project. It’s a weekly half-hour of topical comedy that has many of the same elements of late-night network TV: the monologue, the desk piece, the guest. In between, there were three commercial parodies that served as a buffer between acts during her commercial-free show, much like John Oliver’s “And Now This…” interstitials do on HBO. In comedy terms, Wolf’s parodies were on the same par as those you’d see on “Saturday Night Live.”
Wolf has all the confidence you need in a standup comedian and will quickly grow into her role as TV host as soon as she gets better at reading her jokes off cue cards. The material was pretty strong, but didn’t say much you haven’t already heard from Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, or Wolf’s former boss, Seth Meyers. In fact, when she moved to the desk, she reminded me most of Meyers, although she needs to ditch the wacky sound effects and forced naming of every segment.
In the third act, Wolf brought out Amber Ruffin, a very funny woman also from the Meyers show who I featured in the Picture Of The Day a couple of weeks ago (watch here). But instead of having a conversation or an interview, the two women did a over-written bit about not having children that had them both reading off cue cards and laughing out loud at each other’s lines. This is a classic comedy crutch that I’ve criticized Bill Maher for using, as well. It has to do with Joke Insecurity — the performer’s lack of conviction that a certain joke will work and the belief that adding their own laugh might make us believe it’s funnier than it is. Neither Wolf nor Maher needs to sell their stuff that way.
Nor does Wolf need “DJ Jer-Z” standing a few feet to her left to laugh at her monologue jokes. In fact, I don’t see the necessity for the DJ at all, considering he seemed to be playing nothing but generic bumper music at the open and between bits. Perhaps that’s a rights issue (could Netflix have refused to pay royalties for music used on “The Break”?), but it leaves him doing nothing more than a sound technician in the control room usually does from a pre-purchased production package.
All of that said, I look forward to seeing how Wolf’s show progresses as she and her staff get into a weekly groove. Like Samantha Bee, she’s an important female voice — although I noticed that most of her writers are guys — who’s not afraid to offend while taking on issues, and she can be damned funny, too.