More than a year after a pilot was made for what was then The Midnight Show with Pete Holmes, The Pete Holmes Show finally began last night after Conan. The long awaited show debuted in the middle of a much-discussed late night boom, but there’s little chance of it getting lost in a sea of interchangeable programs. Because ultimately, the defining characteristic of The Pete Holmes Show is just how Pete Holmes-y it is. The first episode, and likely the few weeks of shows, will serve as a crash course in what has made the standup and You Made It Weird host such a beloved figured in the comedy world.
Holmes’s debut monologue, in which he talked about his alt-universe life as a youth pastor and a solo trip to an Enrique Iglesias concert, was just as much like his standup as he’d promised it would be. The second segment, a pre-taped piece where he got advice from Jon Stewart on the set of The Daily Show (where Holmes used to be the warm-up act), and the third, an interview/casual chitchat with his friend Kumail Nanjiani, were brief insights into the things that interest him. And the final segment, “All the Games”, was a visual version of the beloved GameFly ads from YMIW.
It’s hard to say what a complete newbie to Holmes will have thought of the show. Its informal, sometimes messy, style contrasts sharply with its sparkly, well-tailored lead-in, and it may take time for viewers to adjust to this rhythm. And the show will need to become a bit more polished to compel fans to watch the actual episodes on TV instead of relying on online clips the next day. At times, the first episode felt rushed and over-edited, a common flaw in new shows that tends to get ironed out over time. And the opening sketch, a Professor X/Wolverine parody, was funny but not a classic, lacking the grandness that executive producer Conan O’Brien has gone for in his cold opens. (He’s 3 for 3 on brilliant openings for his talk shows.)
Despite its time slot and happy embrace of swearing and sex, the show has as much in common with an Ellen-esque daytime show as a traditional late night show. It tapes one week in advance (like many daytime shows) and features frequent cutaways to the studio audience, giving it a laidback, unshowy vibe. And while it’s probably the least topical talk show on the air, its closest stylistic relative in the late night sphere is W. Kamau Bell’s Totally Biased; both half-hour shows have eschewed designer suits and desk pieces for darker, homey sets and living room-style interviews. (Bell, incidentally, has apparently already pre-taped a piece for Holmes’s show. Hopefully, since the two cable hosts aren’t direct competitors, we’ll see more cross-network, cross-country crossovers between the two.)
The journey of The Pete Holmes Show will likely be different from many late night shows. Network shows, in particular, generally involve a host entering a pre-determined format and finding his voice within that structure. Holmes, on the other hand, has arrived with a complete stage persona and a solid canon of silly, funny comedy from which he can draw. Now, his challenge is to build a structurally sound, compelling television show to showcase that world. When he does, he’ll have one of the most unique, clever, and engaging shows on television.