“That damn Michael Che” on HBO Max
Michael Che in That damn Michael Che.
Photo: Matt Wilson / Courtesy of HBO Max
As a comic book and television personality – known to most as Saturday Night Live co-editor since 2017 and, alongside Colin Jost, co-presenter of the “Weekend Update” segment since 2013 – Michael Che specializes in ironic punchlines, ironic distance and armed liberalism. It’s hard to get a more in-depth read on him than that; the right “Update” anchors only need to allow for the disorienting weirdness of current events, and the gallery of thugs of regulars and wacky guests trying to get “Update” hosts to break the character every week , to do the heavy lifting. SNL is the late-night institution that your Norman friends periodically hide in bewilderment, while your left-wing friends bristle with the infantilization of political terrors like Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence. There isn’t much appeal to conservatives, who think the show has gotten “too political” (that is, they don’t make a habit of being the butt of many jokes. lately), or who feel indifferent because it is rare for SNL fire a blow requiring serious retaliation, Patchgate Nevertheless. SNL is secure. It’s good television, pure neoliberal pathos, not awake enough to praise the right-wing outrage merchants who are desperate enough lately to fight for Dr Seuss’ books, but also greedy for cultural cachet among the moderates and Internet edgelords to be considered left-wing comfort food. SNL stir the pot but often make sure it never overflows.
It is not possible to say to what extent this state of affairs is directly attributable to Michael Che, but That damn Michael Che, the new HBO Max comedy sketch series created by and starring Che, carries some of the hallmarks of the writer, actor and producer alma mater comedy. That damn Michael Che mixes current affairs sketches linked to current events with scenes where Che plays a version of himself, a black man navigating the racial fallout of the pandemic and the New York protests in 2020, as he searches for a greater recognition beyond the prime-time gig to an audience that maybe thinks he’s a jerk. Not quite a Louie and not quite a Chapel Show, Che splits her time between exploring the bizarre mid-level celebrity sensation of being on TV every week but unable to use your visibility to skip the lines at any local club, and examining how the upheavals of 2020 have and have not changed the fate of interior -urban communities in New York.
CheThe humor of seems quite caustic on the surface, but its targets are fair and balanced in that this fairness appears almost like an insurance policy, the “But I Hate EverybodyResponse to the criticism of a controversial joke. “Policin ‘”, the first of the fiery series, spears the NYPD for clumsy and clumsy attempts to reform its image as a basketball game is organized between cops and black youth that ends with an officer shooting the ball. Elsewhere in the episode, Che finds himself stuck in an elevator with a white woman, played by her “Weekend Update” predecessor, Cecily Strong, who is eager to right the injustice she learns about. His activism is hollow, whimsical. Like the good weather activists in the “Fitbit Protest” commercial mockup elsewhere in the episode, she does nothing but do what makes her feel good. When the heart to heart ends, she hasn’t changed her ways. Che leaves him a note: “The cops are just n- – – -s with jobs, okay? Some are good at it. Some are bad at it. We all have a hard time moving forward, you know?
What That damn Michael Che seems to want is the jarring honesty of a show like The Carmichael Show, an equally inclined sitcom to suck the oxygen out of a scene with heartbreaking realism to make viewers laugh until they sweat. But CheThe truths of aren’t always heartbreaking, and her jokes aren’t always powerful. An episode on the cost of healthcare in America, which kicks off a discussion of the dilemma faced by people in underprivileged communities when a hospital visit is needed, but the bill is just as much a danger to the well- being patient as the disease itself, turns into a bit where Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan plays an inexperienced, soft-spoken doctor asking a man to perform his own colon cancer screening. While the superficial idea that a “black hospital is where you learn to care for whites” undermines the real disparities in medical care in the affected neighborhoods, all it does is do pleasure to a legendary rapper using a soft inner voice. . You think the guy jerking off in the triage room when a beautiful nurse comes out to let him undress for a routine testicular exam is a sexist asshole unable to see past his desires to respect a trained professional who makes sure her health, until you catch her later that night laughing with friends over screenshots of her naked body in a bar. We’re all assholes when no one else’s looking, you know?
That damn Michael Che thinks big and hits low, but at his best times he cleverly reckons with the absurdity of the social conditioning men in their late 30s who grew up in the ’80s and’ 90s, and the jarring contrasts between what was then expected. and what is acceptable now. Flashbacks to Che’s youth reveal sexism everywhere, even at school; as an adult, he has a hard time saying “I love you” to a significant other and knowing when a mate isn’t enjoying his dates and movie night choices. A public break in the episode “Bourbon and Water” unexpectedly cuts off a segment of couples quarrel, a game show a bit like Family quarrel where each candidate’s friends list the reasons they should go their separate ways, and where comic and actor Godfrey impresses with his perfect impression of Steve Harvey. Che addresses coronavirus skepticism with a skillful twist, carefully distributing sympathies based on why a person is suspicious of the government. A video montage shown at a town hall meeting commemorating all the strident anti-masks who have died since from COVID is the show’s funniest gag. A leap of black men through history expressing distrust of government and new technology defeats skeptics by showing how ultimately harmless social change always arouses suspicion at first, and how the language and traditions of Conspiracy theories remain the same even though the subject is still changing. The idea is hilariously revisited in another track, where Che responds to accusations of Illuminati underground sex and sacrifice by staging a Single-as a competition to see which family member is sacrificed so they can get a big movie role. Like the episodes on health care and the police in “Sex Worker”, where Che counts with the celebrity, the pitch is more interesting than the gags: Che wonders out loud if white celebrities are less criticized than blacks , perhaps because black communities experience less upward mobility. How this idea takes shape in the episode is mainly just a group of people asking Che if he did “gay shit” to explode.
This show thinks but sometimes struggles to be funny and poignant in the same scene, and to be critical without caring who it offends. For every uncomfortable truth – like the ballers in “Sex Worker” happy to promote social justice until it comes to trans women, an interesting point coming from Che, who once Deadnamed Caitlyn Jenner on National TV – there is a conciliatory “but”. Black New Yorkers have good reason to be afraid of the police, But that’s great if you still want to be a cop. Straight men are terminally ill and often blinded by libido, But women are not angels either. People who share lies about the COVID vaccine ultimately only hurt themselves and their neighbors, But there are fantastic reasons to be suspicious of government initiatives. (Everything looks like the old Che joke: Homophobia is boring, But maybe you grew up haunted by a gay ghost.) None of this is wrong, but it’s not that deep either. That damn Michael Che has a good heart, good ideas and good guests, with memorable appearances from comics and actors such as Sam Jay, Conner O’Malley, Alex English, Geoffrey Owens, Gregory Porter and Chris Distefano. As Saturday Night Live, it’s pretty fun when it comes to not guessing and overthinking in a liberal haze.