Craig Ferguson’s affable and intelligent late night presence has been sorely missed since he handed over hosting duties of The Late Late Show in 2014 amid the shakeup following David Letterman’s retirement. But CBS’s loss is HISTORY’s gain: the Scottish-American comedian returns tonight with his new (yet hearteningly familiar) talk show, Join or Die. The first two episodes air back-to-back following the season premiere of Vikings.
Fans of Ferguson’s tenure at The Late Late Show will immediately recognize his relaxed, seemingly ad-libbed monologue that opens each show. Nothing has changed, save the notable-but-not-regrettable absence of Geoff the robot skeleton sidekick. Craig Ferguson is at his best in these introductions where he engages in his exuberantly confessional style of comedy that relies on truth, not truthiness, to inspire laughs.
Each episode focuses on a general topic, such as history’s biggest political blunder or history’s worst medical advice, and, with the help of a celebrity guest panel and audience voting, seeks to arrive at the superlative from a list of six candidates. The format could readily be compared to @midnight with Chris Hardwick or The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, but where the former focuses mainly on pop culture and the latter focuses mainly on politics, Ferguson’s show offers up a smörgåsbord of historical, cultural, and political subjects for lighthearted but knowledgeable debate.
As the “American on Purpose” that he is, Ferguson might be aiming to contribute something more meaningful to political discourse at large with his new show, flippant as it is. In rudimentary fashion, Join or Die provides a commendable demonstration of the art of friendly debate. Sure, Ferguson and his guests debate the political downfalls of Eliot Spitzer (call girls) versus Larry Craig (airport bathrooms) rather than the impacts of entitlement reform versus tax reform, but the wider significance of contributing to any such conversation is not lost on the host.
“Why is HISTORY doing this show? Why a show called Join or Die with a vulgar, lounge entertainer like me?” Ferguson asks, before explaining: “Because it is your birthright as an American to be part of the discussion; you either join the discussion or you die.” Whether or not Ferguson overstates the risk of complacency is a matter of debate -— regardless, it’s good to hear that he’s rejoined the conversation.
(11pm ET and 11:30pm ET, HISTORY)