Critic's Pick

TV Picks: 'Tabletop,' 'The Late Late Show,' 'Grace Helbig Show'

"Tabletop" (Geek & Sundry/YouTube). Alt-idols Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton created this YouTube-based Web series, now in its third season, in which Wheaton and a rotating cast of friends (comics, actors, game developers, Internet people, Day sometimes among them) get together to play what we used to call a board game, and let you watch. It's a more sociable version of YouTube play-through videos, where you watch someone better than you at video games play a video game, over their shoulder, as it were -- and also a more down to earth and interesting variant of conventional-TV shows like "Hollywood Game Night," where celebrities gather to signal their ordinariness.

Even as a person who finds a reason to be in the kitchen when games begin in the living room, and is in any case incapable of remembering the rules to anything more complicated than Candy Land -- or, perhaps, especially as such a person -- I find this show mesmerizing. That some of these people are funny is, of course, a plus, especially since most of these games involve character creation and a degree of improv to really come alive; but they're funny like anyone is funny. The show borrows commentary cutaways from reality TV, where the players discuss the action in which they're elsewhere involved -- oh, these meta, meta times -- and the new season improves on the old with better animations to explain and track the play. "Winning is not the thing in games," says Wheaton -- words to live by. New episodes appear Thursdays.

The series lives on Day's YouTube Channel Geek and Sundy, where you can also find "Co-Optitude," in which Day and her brother Ryon play old video games together and generally act related; "LARPs," a less wacky cousin to Day's -- I want to call it groundbreaking -- MMORPG sitcom "The Guild"; and the "Star Wars"-y "Space Janitors." Perhaps my favorite thing there is Will Bowles and Josh Flaum's "Written by a Kid," a no-longer-in-production series from 2012 that handsomely visualizes stories told by children; it's a little like "Drunk History," without the drunkenness, but with kids. Nowhere else on television will you hear someone say, "And then God dropped a zombie" (and then get to see it happen).

"The Late Late Show With James Corden" (CBS, wee-hour weeknights); "The Grace Helbig Show" (E!, Fridays). Corden, who in late March took over the spot formerly occupied by Craig Ferguson, has quickly found his feet and clamped them to this stage. Such comical excuses as he makes for his rawness, his newness and his lack of readiness should be taken with a grain of salt, however much he might mean yet, at the same time, mean them. The new "Late Late Show" already has the confidence, even the swagger, of a much older series. Although in most respects the host is nothing like his predecessor and his show little like his predecessor's, they do share an interest in wayward conversation.

Ferguson, who cared little for the promotional aspects of late-night talk shows, preferred to walk his conversations around them. Corden, who can seem to care too much -- he is consistently agog at his guest's latest (film, show, book, song) -- gets there by bringing everybody out at once, in the English style, and letting them go. (He's a good guide, when one is needed, and unlike Ferguson, who used to loudly tear them up, he holds on to his cards.) The interplay makes the show noisier than the competition; not all guests are equally comfortable with it -- some take over, some get out of the way -- but this just makes it all feel a little more real and complicated. People say things they wouldn't necessarily say on other shows, in ways they wouldn't necessarily say them. There have been some good filmed features too, notably including the made-to-go-viral Carpool Karaoke, where Corden drives around town with a guest -- Mariah Carey and Jennifer Hudson to date -- while they sing and do bits. 

Some minor things don't work especially well -- entering through the crowd down high stairs makes the guests look uncomfortable, and Corden needs to get behind the bar at stage left or they should pack it up and lose it. More and better use could be made of bandleader Reggie Watts, a racehorse stuck in the paddock. Big-kid giggly and enthusiastic to what some might consider a fault, Corden can make even Jimmy Fallon seem like Lionel Barrymore foreclosing on the mortgage of an orphanage. But the fine time he's having does spread around the set and across the screen. And he is not self-unaware. "Check out this ridiculous segue that we thought you'd all think was seamless," he said, laughing, during his opening monologue one recent night.

Grace Helbig, whose weekly late-prime-time E! show kind of replaced Chelsea Handler's but not really, comes from the Internet, from which this real-TV series takes its private-made-public tone (and some of its guests). There is no audience; it is shot, like any Web diary, in a house, albeit one especially, professionally dressed for the occasion; it has the just-hanging-to-have-fun feel of a podcast. Helbig, who was a correspondent on G4's "Attack of the Show," is 29, practically an elder in her native community, but young enough to own that only-sounds-ironic, purposefully affectless sound of Kids These Days. (It's a tone I think of as exemplified by that small, squeaked, slightly querulous "Yay" you hear so often, a sound that says, "I think we're having a party here, maybe.") With only a few episodes under its belt, "The Grace Helbig Show" is still finding its feet -- and, reportedly, an audience, Helbig's 2.2 million YouTube subscribers (some of whom are surely among her 1.2 million Twitter followers) having declined to follow her en masse to basic cable. Maybe it's the future of the form, or maybe it's just, you know, whatever. But it's a sweet, friendly little show, dopey mostly in a good way, smart when it wants to be, worth a visit.

Robert Lloyd tweets from the relative safety of @LATimesTVLloyd

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