Back in 1991, E! Entertainment Television premiered “Talk Soup,” a clip show poking fun at daytime talk shows. Over the course of two decades, multiple hosts (Greg Kinnear, John Henson, Hal Sparks, Aisha Tyler and Joel McHale) and one name change (to just “The Soup” in 2004), the show has morphed into a general pop cultural critique of all things unscripted on television (from talk to news to reality). Now the show is expanding the brand with the would-be newsworthy parody “The Soup Investigates.”
On the surface the show looks like a carbon copy of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with Joel McHale playing a generic news anchor character and assorted comedians appearing as correspondents helming filmed segments made to look like investigative news stories. Like “The Daily Show” the segments are based on real incidents or facts, but are played for laughs. Dig beneath the surface, though, and you’ll find that “The Soup Investigates” is ... Nope, it’s still just another “Daily Show” knockoff.
“The Soup Investigates” tries to pattern itself after entertainment news shows like “Entertainment Tonight” or “E! News.” It doesn’t try very hard, though, totally ignoring the vapid, PR-crazed hosts, ridiculously shiny sets and overly slick graphics. (Seriously, how can you not make fun of will.i.am’s awful new “Entertainment Tonight” theme song?) The bare bones, desk-and-chair presentation of “TSI” makes the green-screen graphics of “The Soup” look luxurious in comparison. Chalk this up to either E!’s chintziness about anything not involving the word “Kardashian” or a major missed opportunity on the part of the show’s creators.
McHale’s thorny, snarky “character” can be a problem when he’s got nothing to play against. (“Community,” for example, has done a good job balancing him with dissimilar characters.) With “The Soup Investigates,” the one-note joke seems to be McHale is a jerkbag. He basically yells at every “correspondent” who shows up, tells them they suck and orders them to get off the set. That’s the joke. Repeated without variation each time. Don’t get me wrong, McHale’s a funny guy—but he’s got almost nothing to do here and clocks very little actual time on screen.
The “news” segments themselves sport a few good ideas. Figuring out where all the roses on “The Bachelor” come from or visiting Tila Tequila’s abandoned storage locker seems, in theory, like fun. But the faux reporters are a personality-free lot of interchangeable, D-list comedians in suits. The writing has none of the pointed, satirical bite of “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.” There are moments when the humor hits home. (Showing Justin Bieber fans “before” and “after” pictures of former teen idol Leif Garrett is both mean and hilarious.) But most of the time, it’s just a lot of slack-jawed pointing and gawking. (You know how reality show contests have that really long pause at the end, right before choosing the ultimate winner? You’ve noticed that, have you? Long pause. Just thought we’d point it out in case you never noticed. Cause it’s really long. It’s a long pause.)
Given time “The Soup Investigates” may develop a sharper and more original comedic tone. Until then stick with “The Daily Show”—even with Jon Stewart gone for the summer, they’ve got this kind of thing down to a science.