‘Totally Biased’ Was the Best TV Show That Never Stood a Chance


As of this writing, Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell is still referred to on its Wikipedia page in the present tense — as in, “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell is an American stand up comedy television series that premiered on FX on August 9, 2012, starring comedian W. Kamau Bell.” To paraphrase one of my favorite Monty Python skits, Totally Biased is almost dead. It will be no more. It has almost ceased to be. It will expire and go to meet its maker. It isn’t dead just yet, but as of this Sunday, it will be pulled off life support and unceremoniously thrown into the paupers pit where so many great TV shows end up. But for a few days, Totally Biased is a dead show walking.

As one who has watched and loved Bell’s show since stumbling upon it one night while channel surfing, the news that it only has a few days left to live isn’t all that surprising to me, because Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell is too smart and biting for television. Bell bravely said pretty much whatever he wanted, and although he was normally right, I figure executives took a look at bits like Bell’s brilliant, perfectly delivered, and appropriately angry thoughts on Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, panicked, and realized they were going to have a pretty difficult time selling ads to big-name brands that might not be comfortable with Bell’s type of humor on such hot-button topics.

Television executives regularly do things that piss off fans, and the gravest sin they can commit is killing a show that was never given the chance it deserved. Some of those shows, like Freaks and Geeks, go on to enjoy a cult audience, influence entertainment for the next few decades, and eventually get picked up and put into syndication. Others, like Arrested Development, get the rare opportunity to be revived, while others simply become a distant memory to those viewers that are left to wonder why the rest of the world didn’t get it.

Totally Biased is different, because it is a talk show, and even though talk show hosts can have second lives (see: Arsenio Hall), the episodes themselves are specific to the time when they aired. But while the content of Totally Biased might age poorly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show does has some sort of impact on the next generation of politically minded comedians who were smart enough to tune in to the show. While Bell doesn’t always have the smoothest joke delivery (this, in truth, is part of his appeal), he’s always very much himself, rather than playing a character like Stephen Colbert or satirizing actual TV news programs like Jon Stewart did after a long time as a comedic journeyman. W. Kamau Bell talks about things that you know have always mattered to him, and that’s why the show means so much to those of us who faithfully tune in to watch it.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with what Stewart and Colbert do — I still tune in to their shows on a regular basis. But Bell has provided a breath of fresh air by delivering straightforward, honest political comedy, rather than putting on a suit and mocking network news. This is what has made him easy to connect with and laugh at (and with, as Bell is prone to laughing at his own jokes) — and it’s why his show will be missed.