Samantha Bee, whose weekly TBS series "Full Frontal" has become appointment viewing for those who survive current events by seeing them kicked in the backside, went off-schedule Wednesday for "A Very Special Full Frontal Special."
Timed, and more or less themed, to the Republican National Convention, it mucks in alongside Stephen Colbert's "The Late Show"— which is airing live this week to incorporate the day's convention news— and "Saturday Night Live" "Weekend Update" co-hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, who embedded themselves at MSNBC on Wednesday. They were joined by "SNL" castmate Kate McKinnon as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for some late-night comedy. It's a matter of fighting absurdity with absurdity.
Bee's show is, for the most part, a monologue before a live studio audience, played straight to the camera, with occasional cuts to filmed location pieces. The special, which can now be found in separate acts on the "Full Frontal" YouTube channel, is framed as a documentary in which, in the name of team-building, Bee takes her reluctant young writing staff on a road trip to Cleveland; basically, it's a long drive through Pennsylvania.
"We're a political satire show," Bee says, "so of course we wanted to go to the Republican convention, unlike most Republicans."
They're traveling in 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain's old bus, acquired in the show's opening scene for a paper bag full of cash, "as is," with Bee's picture plastered over Cain's on the side and four-year-old boxes of half-eaten pizza piled all around. "I wanted a bus, and for my sins they gave me one," she'll say eventually, tweaking a line from "Apocalypse Now."
Along the way Bee meets with voters and fails to encourage enthusiasm for the project among her staff. Like "The Daily Show," some of the humor comes from the strange things people are happy to say on camera. "I don't really see him as a racist in my point of view," says one Trump supporter, "just because of people I know who consider themselves racist." Another says, "don't think it's a good idea to put a woman in office – I'm not a sexist or anything." His girlfriend, a truck mechanic, agrees.
A perky young woman who identifies herself as a "Trumpette," referring to Trump as "Donald John," tells Bee, "He's speaking to the teenager in all of us… . All those adults walking around being hypocrites, that sucks right, totally." (She also seems to be "doing comedy," intentionally.)
A packed half hour, the show is filled out with remote reports, including one on delegates pledged to Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, "linked by their brave rejection of math and their commitment to vote for whoever won't become the next president." (The Cruz delegate turns out to be Colorado's Kendal Unruh, whom convention watchers will recognize as a leader of the fight to change the rules governing delegate pledges.) These little portraits catch a lot of character quickly.
Although the Bee of "Full Frontal" is a nails-tough, straight talker – "she eviscerates, she slays, she destroys, she murders," as the bus driver (Tony Goldwyn, the president on "Scandal") describes her – what's emphasized here is her sweetness, caring and hopefulness, her desire to build a team and put her staff in matching blazers. (The staff tries to burn them.) She hugs a young, confused first-time voter, lengthily, twirls a burly young bearded Clinton supporter. People, we are reminded, are only human.
A coffee shop visit with a Republican state legislator who believes in a bipartisan approach ends the special on a bright note. "You seem so reasonable," Bee tells him. "What's going on?"
They do make it to Cleveland. But by then, the half hour's up.