Russell Brand's stab at social commentary comes off as pretty dull
Something seemed to get lost in translation — or, rather, Russell Brand's thick British accent — in the funnyman's new FX show, "Brand X With Russell Brand."
The series, which premieres Thursday night at 11 p.m., is a free-ranging affair during which, FX says, Brand offers his "unvarnished, unfiltered take on current events, politics and pop culture." Which is only partly accurate. Judging from the first episode of the six-part series, the primary topic of discussion is Brand himself. And the show suffers for it.
During the premiere episode, Brand — known for his turns in "Get Him to the Greek," along with his semi-controversial hosting stints on MTV awards ceremonies, not to mention his short-lived marriage to Katy Perry — holds court on the topic of spirituality, specifically, in America. Well, sort of — a large part of his opening monologue is devoted to jokes about his status as a tabloid fixture. After which he attempts to dissect the state of spirituality in the nation. And the resulting reflection runs short on insight and humor.
That might largely be due to the fact that, as someone commenting on American culture, Brand has a distinct lack of experience in the field. During a discussion of quasi-religious icons in America, Brand admits ignorance of NFL quarterback/spiritual cheerleader Tim Tebow, due to being British.
"Tim Tebow. You know who he is, don't you?" Brand asks a member of his studio audience. "Well I don't know, either, because I'm from another country."
That might not be an insurmountable hurdle, if Brand used his outsider status to bring a new perspective to the topic of spirituality, but that doesn't happen either. Where the series hints at a new slant at current events, it delivers one-liners — such as where he compares the Dalai Lama to Charlie Sheen, noting, "They're both outcasts; Charlie was thrown out of 'Two And a Half Men,' the Dalai Lama was thrown out of Tibet."
Cue rimshot. It might not be the worst joke in the world, but what light does it shed on the topic at hand? And sure, while Brand is a comedian and it's his job to make jokes, he's chosen a forum that requires more than an easy laugh — it also requires analysis that gives the viewer a new take on the topics he's discussing.
The disconnect might also have something to do with the fact that, as an entertainer, Brand has relied pretty heavily on his outrageous persona to put his act across.
And with Brand competing directly against Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" — in which Jon Stewart nightly displays his masterful ability to meld humor and insight while discussing current events — he's going to need all the help he can get.
Since spirituality seems to be weighing heavily, but not too weightily, on his mind these days, Brand might want to consider dropping a prayer to the deity of his choice.
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