On the first episode of @Midnight - Comedy Central's new internet-lambasting quiz/panel show - host Chris Hardwick went there, capitalizing on the growing perception of him as the "After-show" guy thanks to both The Talking Dead and Talking Bad by joking that the show was not about another show. But while that is true, @Midnight's actual target (the internet) refused to yield much inspiration for good comedy, revealing a vulnerability for a show that feels a bit like a re-packaged version of Hardwick's old show, Web Soup.
Maybe the Internet - a place with the potential to highlight both the un-intentional magic and mayhem of human (and animal) misbehavior - doesn't have enough juice to fuel a daily show, or reach those not "plugged in" to the digital social network. Other late night shows get to pick and choose from pop culture, current events, AND the Internet. They don't have to address a week-old viral video ("Chinese Food") that was likely only made to capitalize on our appetite for the absurd.
Comedy in a cage rarely resonates, and Indoor Kid's podcast host Kumail Nanjiani, stoner comic Doug Benson, and actress/comedian Natasha Leggero felt very limited as Hardwick asked them to react to celebrity tweets and come up with movie titles that sound like pooping, forcing them to throw out under-developed one-liners for arbitrarily assigned points. It is impossible for any of these panelists to really win the day, though, as the format guarantees Hardwick remains front-and-center.
This is somewhat understandable. After-all, the industrious Hardwick has the brand recognition, charm, and pre-installed cult-following that will get people to turn this show on in the first place - but while there is value in having him as a host, he isn't funny enough to carry a late night show on his own and @Midnight's rigid quiz show format - while unique to the US marketplace - feels like an anathema against humor.
Being different isn't always good or funny. If this show had to be about the Internet and social media, Hardwick should have ditched the quiz show and let his guests pick apart the sometimes thin tidings provided by the web, allowing more organic comedy to develop. He chose something else, and now we are forced to hope that Twitter's next service interruption causes 300 cheesy #FailWhale jokes and a quick cancellation.
@Midnight airs weeknights on Comedy Central @12AM ET