As full of wit as it is awkwardness, as many charming conversations as there are clumsy sketches, The Pete Holmes Show is packed with potential, but will also require some patience until it becomes steadier on its feet.
Pete Holmes rose up the comedy ranks with his smart and smiley stand-up and built his fanbase as a podcast celebrity, which is to say, not a celebrity. After a week’s worth of episodes of the newest late-night show, it’s clear that Holmes’ biggest draw is his positivity. He is charming in his earnestness, and you’re almost always laughing with him because he’s always laughing at himself. What’s not to like about a guy who can so accurately state that he understands why people would be confused by his presence as a late-night host? “I don’t have that slick talk-show vibe. … This is the only universe in which I’m not a youth pastor.” And in that moment, you realize, Pete Holmes looks exactly like a youth pastor.
But a late-night show isn’t all about personality. It’s, generally, also about the guests and, occasionally, the extras: sketches, pre-recorded bits and/or music. Last week’s four episodes set up a pretty standard pattern for how The Pete Holmes Show will operate: sketch + monologue + video + guest.
So how did Petey do in his first week?
Monologue: In his first episode last Monday night, Holmes’ monologue went on for almost seven minutes, goofy and engaging the whole way through. It was also his funniest of the week, more or less a stand-up set about being a grown man by himself at an Enrique Iglesias concert with “Latina niñas.” Occasionally, he takes after his mentor, Conan O’Brien (also an executive producer), in the early days of his own late-night career, getting a little too caught up in the audience’s reaction. Instead of using the momentum he builds with a great reaction, he pauses to relish in it (or regain his bearings?), which in a half-hour show, there’s just not enough time for. B+
Sketches/bits: This is where The Pete Holmes Show needs some shaping up. After a funny pre-recorded Wolverine bit (tweeted out by Hugh Jackman himself) to start off the series, nothing else has really clicked, especially nothing live on stage. Sketches like “All the Games” and “Sexy Halloween Costumes for Men” brought otherwise streamlined episodes to a screeching halt. C-
Videos: I enjoyed almost every video that followed Holmes saying, “Watch this video while I also watch it.” It takes Holmes a little time to build up a camaraderie with guests who aren’t already his friends, so segments like the one with advice from Jon Stewart do best with some editing. It seems that some of his guests will also be pre-recorded, at least that was the case with the charming Alison Williams, who he grabbed some gal time with in last Wednesday night’s episode. A-
Live Guests: At about 22 minutes of air time per episode, the guests are what seem to get the short shaft, which is too bad because Holmes is at his best when interacting with other funny people. The Pete Holmes Show brings a unique twist to the mainstream late-night game, in that it doesn’t seem particularly concerned with booking stars, but — at least this early on — bringing on Holmes’ comedian friends (Kumail Nanjiani is a delight in the first episode) and celebrity fans like Williams. There wasn’t a single guest that I didn’t wish I could see more of, even if they’re not names that will necessarily bring the ratings. B+
So, should you be watching? Sure! If you’re the kind of person who likes to partake in quick-paced banter with your friends, you’re guaranteed to get a kick out of at least half of the show. The bits that don’t work are worth it to watch Holmes talk James Harden into saying “ally whoops!” But moving forward, cutting the less necessary sketches and adding more time for interacting with the guests might be a better use of the half hour.
The Pete Holmes Show airs at midnight ET weeknights on TBS.