By the time the clock hits 11 P.M. each day, it can feel as if you’ve been through a week’s worth of news. This acceleration has divided late-night hosts into two classes. It’s not really political vs. apolitical, but rather agile comedy that crystallizes the moment vs. the kind of comedy that worked best before recent rapid cultural change. Three new TV shows are trying to find that line with varying success.
Sarah Silverman’s weekly Hulu show I Love You, America is the most hyped and, so far, the least successful. Silverman is a gifted comic who rose to fame as a rule-breaking provocateur. In the Trump era, she has committed herself to finding common ground by going back to an old-school civics-class style of communication.
But how much uniting is she really doing? In the show’s first two episodes, Silverman visits groups of Trump voters, specifically asks them how they feel about gay rights, hears them out (many are anti!) and then leaves. It’s good to talk to people outside your bubble, but just giving airtime to people saying they’re opposed to civil rights, without elaboration, context or insight feels unproductive. I Love You, America is premised on an idea–that all Americans have a kinship and a basic responsibility to listen to one another–that neither side seems particularly inclined to accept on faith anymore. And Silverman, uncharacteristically timid, doesn’t work hard enough to convince you. A show aiming to bring a divided nation together would have to be executed with a crystalline point of view, which this one just doesn’t have. (Outside comedy, Oprah Winfrey has been trying a similar mission on 60 Minutes this fall, with some success. But that’s Oprah.)
Jordan Klepper’s haute-ironic The Opposition is more successful. Running nightly in the time slot once occupied by The Colbert Report, the show has a similar enough conceit: comedian Klepper plays an Infowars–style conspiracist whose support of the President originates in a belief that everyone else is lying to him. It’s an idea that’s at least responsive to something in the air. Klepper isn’t yet the actor Stephen Colbert was–he wants to be liked too much to commit to the noxiousness of his bit. But the show is amusing, particularly when binged. Running gags repeat to the point of exhaustion, and that’s the point. At its best, The Opposition evokes the airless paranoia evoked by following the news too closely.
The best of the new wave of political chat is Robin Thede’s weekly variety show The Rundown on BET, which mixes an ESPN-style list of topics to be quickly toggled through with taped comedy sketches. Thede, an appealing onscreen presence who used to write for Comedy Central’s short-lived The Nightly Show, isn’t trying to speak to or for everyone like Silverman, or to inhabit a character like Klepper. Her show is rooted in black culture and the black experience. A recent taped bit about black pot entrepreneurs in Oakland, Calif., for instance, made surprising points available nowhere else on late night. Thede is sharper, so far, on pop-culture topics that few other hosts are covering than on politics–but her presence in late night feels like a retort to both our current politics and to much of late night. No matter what is in the headlines, Thede is unafraid to clap back.
I Love You, America streams Thursdays on Hulu; The Opposition airs Monday through Thursday at 11:30 p.m. E.T. on Comedy Central; The Rundown airs Thursdays at 11 p.m. E.T. on BET
This appears in the November 13, 2017 issue of TIME.