‘Kathy’ review: Kathy Griffin finds a new level of reality
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The best moment on “Kathy,” Kathy Griffin’s talk show that debuted Thursday on Bravo, came fairly early on when Meredith Morris, one of a trio of non-celebrities joining Griffin to rake over pop culture topics, laughingly suggested that “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” reunion had gotten so over the top they “don’t really need Andy Cohen.” Griffin, a long-time sweet ‘n’ steely provocateur with a flinch-resistant face and an oft-stated “no apologies” policy, visibly stiffened, interrupting Morris to laughingly but pointedly explain that this, ha ha, was precisely why she had decided not to book “A-list celebrities” because celebrities would never, ha ha, say things like, “They don’t need Andy Cohen ... ” ha ha, because “Yes we do. ... ”
Cohen, of course, is the executive vice president of development and talent at Bravo who has helped oversee the “Real Housewives” franchise and many other shows, including Griffin’s previous show, “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-list.” He also appears in many episodes of Bravo’s various reality shows and hosts “Watch What Happens: Live,” which was recently expanded to five nights a week, and directly follows “Kathy.”
If, by some chance, you are not one of the 2 million to 3 million Americans who regularly tune into the “Real Housewives,” or the 1.2 million who watch “Watch What Happens: Live,” you might not know this.
But then if you did not know this, you would probably not be watching “Kathy.”
For all her resolute outrageousness, Griffin is a very hard-working entertainer, as multiplatform and multitasking as Ryan Seacrest, a frequent Griffin target. She is also a team player, a team Bravo player. No doubt she is just as addicted to the “Real Housewives” franchise as she claims, and just as nauseated by the Kardashian family (whose show airs on E! which is owned, as Bravo is, by NBCUniversal) but even so, her constant references to the shows, in her various comedy specials and here, clearly crosses the line from cultural reference into shilling. Which Griffin, who is nothing if not frank, admitted in her show’s premiere, prefacing another “Housewives” tangent with “I don’t mean to sound like a Bravo infomercial but....”
But we really do need Andy Cohen.
The beauty of television today is that it has become at once more insular and more universal. Shows with relatively small audiences, be they a reality franchise or “Mad Men,” have disproportionately large cultural footprints -- people are, apparently, happy to talk, hear and read about shows they don’t actually watch. Griffin, one of the first to realize this, has built something of a career on it, using her addiction to and knowledge of the reality TV world to not only solidify her regular-gal persona (her friend Anderson Cooper lately used his love for the “Real Housewives” in a similar way) but also to stretch out her comedic landscape, which is essentially based on saying what many people think in a way that is often very funny.
This is actually the basis of the theme song for “Kathy,” which Griffin sings herself, although, she admits, with an obscenity-defined amount of Auto-Tune. So “Kathy” is a television talk show that appears, at least from the premiere, to be about ... television. Other topics were discussed by her “regular folk” guests, including blogger Michelle Collins, who may turn out to be Griffin’s Eve Harrington (and no, Harrington isn’t a Real Housewife), but none with as much avidity as television itself. The pace was fast and often hilarious; whether the guests remain up to Griffin’s standards remains to be seen.
The second half of the program sagged a bit: Griffin “interviewed” members of her new staff, who she then brought out on stage to serve as a second panel of guests and create a show within a show, which did not work as well as the earlier discussions of Celine Dion’s hologram, the new Wilson Phillips show and prostitute-visiting Secret Service agents.
Like Rosie O’Donnell, whose talk show on OWN recently bombed, Griffin opens with a little stand-up and remains a comedian throughout the show. Unlike O’Donnell, however, she is not saddled with supporting a new network or hemmed in by the strictures of “nice” TV. Her guests, which include her mother and her “assistant” Tiffany -- both longtime Griffin collaborators, -- require no hand-holding and understand the game, which is to be outrageous, obscene, and limitless.
Within reason, of course, because Celine Dion is super-talented and very nice, the Secret Service does important work. and we really do need Andy Cohen.
-- Mary McNamara