Moving Pictures
Mar 30, 2011, 07:16AM

The Daily Show Launching Pad: In For Repairs

Fake news shows’ correspondents encounter moments of complacency.

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There was a time, not long ago, when appearing as a regular “correspondent” on The Daily Show was in several cases a step to bigger and brighter (or at least more lucrative) things. The show’s most famous alums, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert—the erstwhile stars of the still-hilarious “Even Stev(ph)en” bit—parlayed their TDS experiences into their own shows (and, for Carell, an odd kind of movie stardom).

Ed Helms and, to lesser effect, Rob Corddry, were the next to move on: Helms following Carell to The Office and playing a nerdy schlub in The Hangover and a schlubby nerd in Cedar Rapids, while the harder-to-pigeonhole Corddry has mostly been relegated to supporting roles in iffy films (The Heartbreak Kid, Failure to Launch) before hitting with the online medical show sendup Childrens’ Hospital.

Since then, however, the TDS well of multi-threat talent seems to have dried up. Sure, there’s John Oliver (whose TDS ubiquity when he first joined in 2006 was enough to make you wonder if he had something on Stewart, or at least why the show’s producers felt obliged to cram him down your throat every single night), who’s now a (mercifully, semi-) regular on Community, and Rob Riggle, who went from being underused on Saturday Night Live to being underused on TDS, and now is being underused in movies and TV.

Beyond them, though? Not much. (I’m not counting Lewis Black and Demetri Martin, who had successful stand-up careers before joining the show, even if their TDS exposure was undeniably important: Black regularly sells out the likes of Carnegie Hall and has made a number of comedy albums, while the insufferably twee Martin’s dreams of big-screen glory appear to have been strangled at birth with the godawful Taking Woodstock; he’s now the 13th-billed star of Steven Soderbergh’s forthcoming Contagion, listed between Monique Gabriela Curnen and Jillian Armanante.)

For years (pre-Oliver, anyway) the odds-on favorite for greater things seemed to be Jason Jones. Plying a healthy degree of Colbertian smarm with a narcissism about his looks that may, or may not, be entirely satirical, Jones was for a couple of years the go-to guy for Stewart, much as Carell and Colbert had been in the past. That he was married to co-star Samantha Bee didn’t hurt; after all, Carell was married to Nancy Walls, with whom he delivered TDS’ de rigueur takeoff on Entertainment Tonight, “We Love Showbiz!”

But Jones’ career has stalled, possibly due to his off-screen behavior around TDS, which implies that maybe the smug egocentric bit isn’t all an act. A comedy pilot he shot last year called How to Be a Better American went through at least two iterations before landing on the trash heap. On Tuesday came news that he’s now shooting a pilot called The Assistants, about those who work for a celebrity and, in the words of Deadline.com, “her younger, hunky husband”—guess who? —who lives in her shadow. If that doesn’t sound too promising, keep in mind that the celebrity is played by Heather Locklear.

Ooof, as they say.

Some of this undoubtedly has to do with timing. For all the perceived “overnight success” status accorded to Carell and Colbert, they both actually worked for years in unseen and largely unappreciated capacities. (Few realize that the pair voiced Ace and Gary, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” on SNL several years back.) Carell had previously left TDS to join the cast of Watching Ellie, one of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ more ironically-named series, and before TDS came along, both spent a lot of time doing behind-the-scenes work and landing the occasional guest spot on the likes of Spin City.

It may simply be a matter of gaining some more seasoning for Stewart’s younger cohort. Mumbai-born Aasif Mandvi has shown some real promise, and even co-wrote and starred in a charming, little-seen comedy film called Today’s Special in 2009. (He was also in The Last Airbender, but let’s not dwell on that; I’m sure he doesn’t.) Also worth watching is Wyatt Cenac, whose extracurricular activities thus far have been mainly in the voice-acting and writing realms; he did some work for Marvel Comics a couple of years ago.

Or, then again, it may simply be that the two Steves (plus Ed, and maybe—brrrr—John Oliver) were those rare instances of true talent being recognized and rewarded. Much like The Simpsons, TDS has in recent years ended up in a slot of complacency. Even when these shows struggle to prove they’re still cutting edge (with Stewart’s near-nightly scolding of Obama sometimes veering into Olbermann-esque territory), viewers know that they’re really now a part of the establishment.

And in an industry that’s purportedly always looking for something fresh and new, “establishment” is not where it’s at.


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