By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — I didn’t expect much from “Brand X,” FX’s new “talk show” starring British comedian Russell Brand, and yet I got even less. With his disheveled locks and quasi-bohemian dress, Brand is as much a personality as a performer, having managed to not only survive but leverage a medley of dysfunctions (including ADD, heroin addiction, alcoholism, bulimia, divorcing Katy Perry) to create an image of the bleary-eyed, often low-brow but sometimes surprisingly literate scapegrace.
It’s a character that has granted him a successful film career — “Get Him to the Greek,” “Arthur” and, most recently, “Rock of Ages” — best-selling books, stand-up shows and awards-hosting gigs. So why not a show that, according to the FX website, offers Brand’s “unvarnished and unfiltered point of view on current events, worldwide politics and popular culture?”
Because, if the first episode (which aired Thursday night and was made available too late for prior review) is any indication, he doesn’t understand how such a show should work. If nothing else, Brand has overestimated his own ability to riff on the news, or rather the audience’s interest in his riff. More experienced “talk show” stars, from Leno to Colbert, approach the half-hour with a bit more humility; they do not try to sustain it with monologue alone.
But Brand apparently prides himself on an idiot-savant, shoot-from-the-hip approach, centering his first show on his own recent visit with the Dalai Lama, and then branching out into thoughts on who is the American equivalent of the Dalai Lama. The answer, of course, is the Dalai Lama, but Brand, emphasizing repeatedly the fact that he’s not from the U.S. (and so, could not possibly know who Alan Greenspan is) attempts to deconstruct American culture by equating spirituality with politics, sports, consumerism and Charlie Sheen. You just knew he would get Sheen in there, if for no other reason than Sheen also premiered a show on FX that very night.
Brand is aided in his endeavor by a geeky sidekick in the form of Matt Stoller, a former congressional adviser who, Brand says, in one of the few actually funny lines, spent years and years at Harvard “without inventing a social network.” Stoller is there to feed Brand topics that the comedian can then address in his signature educated but medicated way. He gets off a few good lines, but even the fan-based studio audience wasn’t much impressed, providing an ocean of silence where the laughter should be, which made the television viewing experience actually uncomfortable at times. No one likes to see a stand-up die. But then, as the end credits rolled, Brand invited a hiccuping woman on stage so he could call attention to her large breasts and suggest she begin a whole new big-breasted hiccuping sort of porn, and you don’t feel sorry for him at all.