Review: The 1/2 Hour News Hour

Fox New’s Half Hour News Hour is a half-hour “fake news” show. It’s been on for some times, but I had neglected to check it out. This past weekend I finally saw it, review follows.

Half Hour New Hour LogoThough comparisons with Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show are easy, they aren’t really accurate. The Half Hour News Hour is much closer to a shortened version of Saturday Night Live with a “Weekend Update” as its central bit and a more conservative bent. They appear proud of this fact proclaiming during the opening that, “The following program contains satire and humor aimed at targets not normally skewered, mocked, or ridiculed in the major media.” The intro goes on, but is decidedly not worth quoting.

This episode, aired July 8, started with an incredibly long ad. The ad is presumably for Hilary Clinton, with words praising “her” experience during eight years as the First Lady. The words are nebulous enough that they could be about Clinton but clearly aren’t (this is Fox after all); it feels too long to reach obvious punchline… Nancy Reagan for President–though I will admit I was expecting Laura Bush.

Rather than going with a single strong anchor like The Daily Show or many of Fox’s own shows, the format is very much like the current “Weekend Update” format: two anchors, one male and one female, sparring with short twenty second quips based on well-known news stories. It’s not a bad format, but it’s decidedly different than the Daily Show which thrives by showing and chastising absurdity in politics and the media.

The jokes during this portion are largely those you would expect from Fox News. Jibes at Al Gore’s son, John Kerry, and Barack Obama are common. These were followed by a “resident expert” who is strangely a male feminist–I was surprised Fox News would allow that there could me male feminists. But alas, he is a blatant chauvinist. The bit is reasonably humorous, though it’s not clear that the target is feminists and not chauvinists.

Other stories they showcase are less clearly political, or funny. They point out that most journalists who make political donations made them to Democrats (ha!). They skewer iPhone owners for having no friends. And they claim that all English-speaking Americans are happy about the defeat of the immigration bill (apparently nearly 50% of Americas only speak Spanish). Other targets were slightly stranger–in one memorable joke, they make fun of the oldest man to ever climb Mount Everest, claiming that he went out to get the morning paper and ended up on top on the highest mountain on earth. “Old People!” the hosts yell, then chuckle at themselves.

Fake commercials also figure prominently in the show. But interestingly, before they cut to them a ribbon, absent during the show, scrolls at the bottom listing men whose sentences Bill Clinton commuted, with obvious political motives. Other ribbons listed the accomplishments of the Democratic congress (only raising the minimum wage is listed), and those who Clinton pardoned (nearly ever person on the list is described as “child molester,” etc.).

The commercials are strange, but not unfunny. There’s “Hollywood Helping Humanity,” an organization soliciting (breast) implant donation to help struggling actresses. One sells a debt-reduction service which takes advantage of the “liberal” view that the world will end in five years. Though it’s not clear that these concepts have any basis in fact, they are worthy of at least a chuckle.

There is also a cartoon featuring a “Closet Conservative,” oddly-named “Guy White” (get it, we’re the White Guys…), who “comes out” when he hears the black delivery man dissing Democrats. They have some fun saying Bush’s name and watching office workers complain about the administration. I don’t know how the bit aspired to be funny.

The most disturbing parts, however, are the shows lapses into xenophobic unfunniness. One example are interviews with “architects” (read: actors) whose designs for the World Trade Center site were rejected. The troubling part is this the Asian woman created a “giant stick” seemingly unaware of the purpose of a building. Questionably insulting, but let’s move on. The white male created a building that was a huge version of the World Trade Center. I don’t get this. But, and here’s my issue, the Muslim has suggested a giant target with an arrow pointing to it. This man is ignorant as to why this is insulting or problematic. If he had been Osama bin Laden, perhaps this would be okay, but the man appears to be a normal American Muslim, yet ignorant or conniving enough to help terrorists. (In case you’re interested, this clip appears to be online at the show’s site.)

The essential problem I find with the Half Hour News Hour is that its humor is constrained by its venue. Some bits are genuinely funny. I, for one, actually liked the iPhone joke. But these jokes are overwhelmed by overtly political jokes and non-jokes that don’t really succeed, or even aspire to humor. The show has potential, but unless it will pursue humor above and beyond partisan politics, it will continue to marinade in its owns (sometimes funny) mediocrity.

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