The pitch for the Comedy Central show The Opposition With Jordan Klepper, airing in the 11:30 p.m. slot after Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, was that it could fill the role that Stephen Colbert did for Noah’s predecessor, Jon Stewart. While The Daily Show exists to poke holes in the mainstream news media and political class, The Opposition (like The Colbert Report) is a rebuttal delivered through a funhouse mirror, a high-concept parody of conservative cable news that never breaks its ironic, contrarian tone. But while Colbert played the role of a Fox News blowhard in the mold of Bill O’Reilly, Klepper has a more amped-up lodestar specific to the moment: Alex Jones of the radio show and website InfoWars.
The first episode of The Opposition, which aired September 25, pointedly mimicked fringe-right commentators, with Klepper spouting conspiratorial nonsense and praising pundits like Dana Loesch and Tomi Lahren. Klepper barked that his show would practice a form of “mental nationalism,” where the golden rule is “may you only hear from others what you’ve already been telling yourself.” It was a statement that felt as punchy and caustic as Colbert’s opening monologue about “Truthiness,” the core concept of The Colbert Report, back in 2005. It seemed Klepper, who I always considered competent but uninspiring in his time as a Daily Show correspondent, actually had an angle on the extreme media silos of the Trump era that was relevant.
But any late-night show is tough to judge from just its first episode—especially one submitting itself to a daily grind, as Klepper’s is. The biggest recent hits in the medium have been weekly shows that spend more time honing their hosts’ direct-to-camera rants, like Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and Comedy Central’s surprisingly effective Trump parody, The President Show. Viewers may play into Comedy Central’s hands and stick around after Noah to watch The Opposition, but they’ll likely discover the show isn’t actually serving up anything new. Despite the promise of the premiere, The Opposition is turning out to be less of a timely satire of right-wing media, and more of a direct clone of The Colbert Report.
While The Opposition’s first episode was bullish and pointed, its follow-ups have lost some of their vigor. Each half-hour begins with a shot of Klepper standing by a comically over-stuffed corkboard covered in pushpins, red yarn, and various meme-worthy images of conspiracies, with the host insisting that he’s “figured it out” and blaming the day’s bad news on the Democrats (or, more specifically, Hillary Clinton) before running to his desk. But from that InfoWars-esque opening, Klepper shifts into a conventional desk monologue that doesn’t live up to the show’s confrontational title.
Klepper’s biggest problem might be that he’s not really “in character” for the show.
Each episode takes a news story of the moment that’s probably leading the Breitbart homepage—NFL protests, the Republican primary for Luther Strange’s Senate seat, Tom Price’s resignation—and has Klepper deliver a monologue furiously defending the Trump administration’s side of the debate. The joke of The Opposition so far is watching Klepper tie himself in knots trying to act like a furious outsider railing against the “lamestream media” and the “swamp” in Washington D.C., while somehow making it come off as a defense of the White House (the apex of establishment). His “opposition” opposes the actual political opposition, while maintaining the same beleaguered attitude of the right-wing media during the Obama administration.
Klepper might find other original angles on this fascinating dynamic as The Opposition continues. And yet there isn’t quite enough of the manic energy of Jones and his ilk, something even Colbert has taken to parodying on The Late Show. It’s undoubtedly a harder group to mock, since Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos and many others are so cloaked in layers of irony themselves. But on a night-to-night basis, Klepper hasn’t quite found his groove yet. Instead, he resorts to easy one-liners about the news that underline his own fatuousness. “This is football. It’s supposed to be simple. It’s not about race; it’s black and white,” he jokes about the NFL protests. “Trump’s playing a game so complex, not even he knows what’s good for him,” he notes of the president’s endorsement of Strange. The gag is that only an idiot would be so lacking in self-awareness—a wholly underwhelming point to make.
Klepper’s biggest problem might be that he’s not really “in character” for the show, leaving it feeling muted as a result. Colbert’s performance as the foolish host of The Colbert Report was very removed from his persona as a comedian, and the show’s set-dressing and overblown graphics matched his spirit. It’s not that Klepper doesn’t have any good material to work with. Jones’s rants are on the level of science fiction; other right-wing YouTube personalities act like they’re delivering their news from inside a heavily fortified bunker. The Opposition could use a little more of that sense of extreme paranoia. For now, it’s an adequate, if watered-down, Fox News parody—not irrelevant, but a little less vital than the times call for.