This is odd. The 3 Minute Talk Show is a new weekly web series (each installment is actually six minutes) full of good talent (Tom Hanks, Fred Willard, Ben Lee, Bryan Cranston) that can’t quite make up its mind whether it’s a wannabe late-night talk show, or a show lampooning wannabe late-night talk shows. Hanks’s production company, Playtone, produces it, Lexus paid for it, eighties comedian Barry Sobel (who was Hanks’s comedy teacher for the film Punchline) is the host, Willard the sidekick, Lee the bandleader, and Hanks and Cranston among the guests. And the more you watch it, the more you wonder, “Wait, what is this?”
Just when you think it’s a parody, it starts to seem no different than the age-old talk-show archetypes it’s parodying, just shorter. There’s a frenetic vibe and an overcharged laugh track in place of a studio audience, but it’s not quite overcharged enough to not seem legitimately bad: With Space Ghost, you knew it all was a satire. Hanks introduces a clip to his upcoming movie, Larry Crowne, and it’s nonsensical without context … and yet still promotional. In the second episode, Cranston fields a real question about winning three Emmys in a row before fake huffing off set because it’s an “Internet talk show.” And Willard spoofed a talk-show sidekick 34 years ago on Fernwood Tonight, but he’s successfully made that kind of genial crackpot his go-to persona for so long that now it just seems like he’s being Fred Willard, sidekick. The pacing and everyone trying so hard to be funny in such undefined terms (are they trying to be Letterman, or tease Letterman? And if it’s teasing, maybe there’s a more current target than his “Top Ten List”?) makes the viewing experience fairly stressful and disorienting. Are we supposed to be entertained in a talk-show way, or in a meta way? That said, 3 Minute Talk Show doesn’t hurt to watch, and we like all these people and Ben Lee’s musical intros for the guests (“Tom Hanks/a nice guy who doesn’t take drugs/Tom Hanks”). But everyone involved should probably stop snickering at the idea of an Internet talk show and realize that more people probably see them plug their movies online than they do on TV.