There’s a weird energy in the air on Drew Barrymore’s new nationally syndicated morning talk show, a frisson that’s hard to grasp but that announces itself as something entirely other. There’s hardly anyone in the studio for Barrymore to ping-pong off of — aside from some staff members who chuckle mildly off-camera, creating a creepy, stilted air. Barrymore launched The Drew Barrymore Show on September 14, at a time when in-studio audiences have been snatched away but producers have not yet figured out how to fill the gaping abyss full of cricket-noise silence. It also doesn’t help that Barrymore’s material appears to have been written by an AI built by a Sim. In this clip from the show’s inaugural episode, Barrymore delivers an opening monologue to a screen of virtual audience members, like she’s Space Ghost dressed in Draper James. She promises us that this is going to be a whole new sort of talk show, and she ain’t kidding. After a knowingly goofy Billy on the Street–style intro to her “Drew’s News” segment, Barrymore sits behind a desk to riff on headlines, “Weekend Update” style. But the prop newspaper that I assume she’s reading upside-down is not of this current timeline/earth/dimension.
Drew’s first news item involves her being delighted and surprised that four women made it … to the US Women’s Finals in tennis. Absolutely, Drew. But the real meat of the segment comes when Barrymore gets to her third story, delivering the line reading, “CNN reports that a 62-year-old ball python has laid seven eggs,” like she has some personal reason to bully a snake. We have no context for her disdain: Is 62 particularly old for a python? Are seven eggs a lot of snake eggs? We’re sure this bit absolutely crushed in dress rehearsal, if the studio audience were made up entirely of snakes. But Drew hasn’t even gotten to her punchline yet: “… Even though she hasn’t been near a male snake in over two decades. Is she 62 or 16?” Barrymore says this joke with the “am I right, ladies?” swagger of Samantha Jones delivering an epic barb, not someone suffering an episode of acute-onset aphasia live on nationally syndicated TV.
Barrymore’s arrhythmic joke delivery of subject matter so staunchly apolitical that it veers into surreality calls to mind an Adult Swim parody of a talk show, like The Eric Andre Show or Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule. When Drew twirls her hair, swings her glasses around, and says, “This story resonates with me because I haven’t been in captivity with a male for quite some time either. Uh-uh. I have my two daughters and my cup runneth over, if you know what I mean,” it sounds like she’s channelling a bizarro Megan Stalter character. She also draws on the rich daytime tradition of The Tyra Banks Show, which also capitalized on celebrity fame to deliver an increasingly surreal broadcast experience. You can either be off-put by it, or take it for what it is: a classic example of Theater of the Absurd, bringing light to the existentialist dread at the core of all our televised distractions, through an absolute goddamn breakdown in communication. In that way, Drew Barrymore just might be television’s Beckett.