Big news last night! Or was it? The Mueller report is out in its redacted form, and nobody can agree on what that means or what happens next. Some see grounds for impeachment; others see total vindication of the president. All the blacked-out bits must make the report look like a Rorschach test because everyone has their own interpretation. How do you make sense of such a moment if you’re a late-night host? A Rolling Stones song parody, duh.
Jimmy Fallon redid the words of “Satisfaction” on The Tonight Show to vent his frustration at what’s missing from the Mueller report. I think? There’s plenty of damning info within the redacted report, so it’s unclear why Fallon can’t take no more redaction. Is it an easy word-replace job because the scansion fits, or does Fallon really resent the obfuscation surrounding the report? Die-hard Trump supporters aren’t going to believe that the report demands impeachment, no matter what it says. The nature of truth, our shared reality, is a matter of partisan debate nowadays. When we’re in psychic free fall, it’s important to find at least one thing to ground one’s reality. Maybe Fallon is falling back on the one thing he knows for certain: He can do musical impressions better than any other late-night host.
Jimmy Kimmel did a musical ode to the report as well, explaining redaction in a Schoolhouse Rock! parody segment. “Redaction Jackson, what’s your action?” Only covering the president’s ass, apparently. Kimmel’s cartoon made it seem like every line redacted from the report was done to protect Trump from being brought to justice, but the redaction was done with both Barr’s team and Mueller’s. How’s that for a conjunction junction? It’s entirely possible that some of the redacted material is important, incriminating stuff that we all should know. But it’s also probable that some of it is supersecret spy shit that needs to be kept secret in order to keep spies alive. The song was catchy, but also needlessly simplistic.
Colbert didn’t do a song, but he did have a Schoolhouse Rock!–looking cartoon that was stopped from saying Trump was 100 percent guilty. Yet both Kimmel and Colbert admit that the report basically says that members of the Trump administration were legally too stupid to collude. They didn’t knowingly break laws because they didn’t understand laws.
The Mueller report was nobody’s best work, and that includes Robert Mueller. It’s a weird and lumpy story from which it is hard to draw conclusions. Jokes play on our shared expectations, but fucking nobody can share anything on the Russian-collusion story. The Mueller report was an anticlimax — a screw job in wrestling terms. So why do we insist on every late-night show weighing in on it? The role of political commentary and satire in late night is always in flux. Before The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, late night was a place for milquetoast reflecting on current events. Carson came on after the news, so the first thing he talked about was the news. But he wasn’t trying to have the hottest take; he merely regurgitated facts with witticism. Then came MTV News, The Onion, Jon Stewart, and any number of politically hep stars of the late ’90s. People started getting their news from The Daily Show, and this calcified the role of political humor in late night for a decade-and-a-half. Today, people look to Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers to explain the Mueller report for them. That’s definitely what Meyers did with his “Closer Look.”
Sure, there were jokes in “A Closer Look,” but it felt more like a recap than the “Game of Jones” segment that came in the same episode. Meyers got an extra half-hour to dissect the Mueller report, as well as talk to Mayor Pete about its implications. Buttigieg said the main takeaway from the report is that we need to vote Trump out of office. But the people who believe that done been believing that. One of the main points of Meyers’s “Look” was that voters don’t care about the Russia investigation. So if the public doesn’t care, why are we talking about it? TV is whatever we want it to be. Of course, “we” doesn’t just mean hosts and writers; it also includes multinational corporations that choose whether TV shows live or die. They may have an outsize role in what “we” say TV is. But let’s look at what the late-night shows that we don’t always lump in with the networks did tonight: Desus & Mero talked about beating it. WWHL floated a sequel to The House Bunny. And Busy Tonight forced Chad Michael Murray to braid Busy Philipps’s daughter’s hair. Are these frivolous pursuits? Hella. But at this point they seem equally as likely to lead to impeachment as the Mueller report. So let’s at least have fun.