Samantha Bee’s New Show Will Be On-the-Ground, Feminist, and Very Canadian


The classic image of the American late-night show is a host in a suit, strolling out on stage to confidently lob one-liners at an adoring studio audience. In some ways, Samantha Bee fits this image perfectly; with over a decade as one of the star players on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show under her belt, she’s a seasoned and self-assured performer, able to establish a rapport with guests and viewers alike.

In other ways, of course, she doesn’t: both Bee’s set and her suit jacket in a test taping screened for critics this Tuesday are purple, far removed from the warm, generic neutrals of 30 Rock or the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Her specialty, both at The Daily Show and on her new series Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, are field pieces filmed outside the studio altogether. And Bee, unlike any of her peers in this (pre-Photoshop) Vanity Fair spread, is a woman.

“My point of view is inherently different,” Bee told the press. “I’m steeped in — my woman-ness, quite frankly.” Though she acknowledged that the relative absence, apart from Chelsea Handler, of female late-night hosts was both an unavoidable aspect of her show and a “valid point to make,” Bee instead framed her gender as a point of view that subtly, but definitely, influences her perspective as both a comedian and a person responding to current events. Early in the presentation, she cited the Zika crisis and its impact on Central American women; later, she pointed to TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws as a type of story she may not have been able to do as a correspondent on someone else’s show as opposed to the host of her own.

Even in the sample monologue, however, Full Frontal‘s angle was clear. Delivered standing rather than from behind a desk, a fixture that’s conspicuously missing from the show’s minimalist set, the segment — targeting a recent Democratic debate as “two awkward hours of speed dating” and a Kansas State Senator with a dress code for female witnesses as “elected paperweight of the week” — felt closest to her former colleague Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show on Comedy Central: news filtered through a lens that’s specific enough to give it a recognizable slant, but universal enough to apply to nearly all of American culture.

Bee’s feminism, however, isn’t the only perspective that sets her apart from the majority of her competitors. Like both Trevor Noah and Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver, with whom she shares a studio, Bee is an international voice with what she describes as a “bird’s-eye view” of the United States. It’s a part of her background that often flies under the radar; originally from Toronto, she has neither the telling accent nor the sheer geographic distance of Noah or Oliver.

Yet it’s a definite presence on Full Frontal, particularly in a pre-taped field segment in which Bee meets with Syrian refugees in Jordan. America’s byzantine review process for refugees, a topic Oliver has previously covered on his own show, is contrasted with a cheery welcome video from the leftist utopia that is Justin Trudeau’s Canada. The clip was also a chance for Bee to reprise, and build on, one of her greatest strengths as a Daily Show correspondent: her ability to turn interview subjects into unwitting, or sometimes just unwilling, straight men (“It’s been so long! Am I a refugee now?” she sobs as an aid worker continues to lay out the asylum process) even as they relay genuinely meaningful information.

Bee is aware that field reporting is her strong suit, and pointed to these segments as one of the many advantages of a weekly — as opposed to, well, Daily — format, which gives her and Full Frontal‘s producers time to travel, film, and put the segments together. It also gives her time for scripted projects with husband and creative partner Jason Jones, like April’s The Detour, also on TBS, projects that were actually in development months before the channel offered her the chance to head up a satirical news show (though Bee “wrapped my head around it realllly fast”).

Distinct as the preview segments seemed, however, Full Frontal still isn’t fully formed. There will be guests on the show, but they won’t be its primary focus; there will also, eventually, be on-air correspondents, in keeping with Bee’s vision for Full Frontal as “a place where we can develop new talent,” down to a hiring process that deliberately sought out candidates with unconventional backgrounds and included detailed instructions for how to put together a late-night packet for those outside the industry. But going into Monday night’s premiere — for which Turner Broadcasting is pulling out all the stops, broadcasting on all of its channels in addition to just TBS — both Full Frontal and its host seem to know exactly what they want to do.

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee premieres Monday, February 8 on TBS, TNT, Adult Swim, truTV, and HLN at 10:30 pm.