Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lopez and Sykes: changing the color of late night

     In the past few days, two people who look a bit different than what is expected joined the ranks of late night television.  George Lopez, a Latino man, is now on Monday through Thursday on TBS, while Wanda Sykes, an African-American lesbian, will appear Saturday nights on Fox.  Their shows are called Lopez Tonight and The Wanda Sykes Show, respectively.  But has anything really changed?

     Lopez, according to the show's press packet, is trying to make his series more audience interactive and fluid, drawing from Arsenio Hall as an influence.  To be honest, though it was slightly more edgy (Eva Longoria Parker danced on a stripper pole and audience members tested racist stereotypes), it didn't seem that much different than any other late night show.  He did ditch the desk, and he also asked the audience for questions, but the tone was fairly mild, and many of the traditional conventions were there.  The biggest difference was the cheering audience, but that seemed reminiscent of a daytime show, think Oprah.  Lopez is supposedly going for a party atmosphere, but he is clearly working under a set of restraints that keep him from straying too far off the beaten path.  Either that, or perhaps just the first episode was.  After all, he has said that shows may begin with a performance rather than a monologue from time to time.  In full disclosure, I admit I've never found the man funny, and his show underwhelmed me.  Other than the couple of things mentioned, it seemed like more of the same with a Latino face.  Or faces, as his guests included Carlos Santana and Parker.

     Sykes, on the other and, showed no sign of the leash.  While airing on Fox, she freely went after Fox News, and her sidekick is a drag queen.  Of course, her show is significantly different than Lopez's.  Hers is a combination of standup and humorous conversations with celebrities.  It could easily have aired on Comedy Central, fitting right in with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert with her biting political commentary.  In fact, a surprisingly large portion of the show concerned her talking about President Obama.  Her humor is quite edgy.  One entire segment involved her trying to make sex toys go green.  Guests got to sit and drink alcohol while chatting at her long table, all of them appearing at once.  I highly recommend tuning in, as I often found myself chuckling out loud.  It truly is a new, fresh show.  On top of all that, Sykes is working double duty right now, as she continues as one of the leads in CBS's The New Adventures of Old Christine.

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