Review of The Break (2018)

Moving picture, 5.0 hours

Seen in 2020.

Stand-up monologues on the news, fake commercials and various comedy bits.

The least popular spin-off of The Daily Show (1996), and rightly so. It seems to have been an underfunded speculation by Netflix following Michelle Wolf’s success at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Like The Colbert Report (2005), Last Week Tonight (2014), Full Frontal (2016), The Opposition (2017), Problem Areas (2018) and Patriot Act (2018), The Break tried to differentiate itself from the rest of its pack. Nominally, the concept is a break from the bleak churn of the Trump presidency, by means of mild absurdism reminiscent of early Conan O’Brien or SNL, just built for Netflix instead of late-night TV. Instead of a band, there was an easily amused DJ. Instead of miscellaneous celebrity guest interviews, Wolf had her friends on.

As with Last Week Tonight, the writers on The Break failed in their ambition to avoid the churn. They also failed to make it funny. There’s one memorable skit in a restaurant where Wolf illustrates how silly it was to pick previously innocuous everyday expressions for the highly charged #metoo movement’s slogans in various trades, by shuffling those expressions around. Among the nonpolitical material, there’s a set of fake ads for new versions of Amazon’s Alexa, revolving around a useless and oppressive lunch meat feature standing in for a range of unmentioned concerns with privacy, corporatism and unchecked AI, as in Black Mirror (2011). Both of these skits have pretty good ideas for light and respectful takes on serious subjects, but the execution is lax, neither fresh nor adequately polished.

I believe The Break failed primarily because it was built to run indefinitely and thus contribute to the problem of oversaturation. There was enough talent involved to do something focused instead and let it die after four to six episodes. In particular, the best part of The Break is a five-minute metatelevision bit analyzing the format of all those other spin-offs and their competitors off the vague TDS family tree. In that bit, pretending to praise herself, Wolf exclaims “The hole that Jon Stewart left has finally been filled!” This is funny. It makes me wish Wolf had gone for a limited metatelevisual satire like Brass Eye (1997/2001). That would have been worth watching.

References here: Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas (2018).

moving picture non-fiction fiction series