In “The Problem”, Jon Stewart finally plays the role of journalist: critic

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Jon Stewart, who left “The Daily Show” in 2015, has officially returned to television. “The Problem with Jon Stewart” – you see what they did there – premieres Thursday on Apple TV +, with new episodes scheduled to arrive every two weeks. It incorporates a bit of “The Daily Show,” in that for part of the hour-long program, Stewart sits at a desk (though not dressed as a news anchor like before, and not on a dressed-up set. like a news show) and says Hopefully Funny Things to a live audience briefly preview.

It’s a current affairs show, but doesn’t play on breaking news. Each episode is organized around a major theme (“War” and “Freedom” are both available for review) refracted through an opening monologue, panel discussions, comedy shorts, and a behind-the-scenes look at the Producers Reunion, which exemplifies the diversity of Stewart’s younger staff – with the sound down, you could almost watch a graduate seminar – but also feels more staged than it probably is.

There are film pieces of varying efficiency; in one, “Ken Burns Presents Ken’s Burns,” the documentary maker jokes, “The government’s treatment of vets is so bad it makes my friend Werner Herzog’s movie ‘Meeting Gorbachev’ look like his movie ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams. ‘”You’re not supposed to figure it out – that’s the joke – but congratulations if you do.

Above all, there is a militant impulse at work here, announced in the opening credits, which is stylistically inspired by punk rock and agitprop posters; Stewart’s guests will stop by not because they’re on a promotional tour, but because they can speak with some authority about the issues the episode’s big theme presents.

“War” features a group of veterans working to draw attention to the toxic and carcinogenic effects of the “fireplaces” that the military has routinely used during various Gulf Wars to destroy everything. from armaments to uniforms to amputated body parts to excrement by spraying them with jet fuel and setting them on fire. “Freedom” brings together the Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, threatened with prison for “cyberlibelle”; former Venezuelan political prisoner Francisco Marquez; and Stewart’s old friend Bassem Youssef, known as Egyptian Jon Stewart, to discuss the slippery slope to autocracy. COVID-themed segments in the same episode examine how some Americans refuse to be vaccinated or wear a mask in the name of their imaginary right to do whatever they want – not exactly a hot topic in the world. current but stubbornly persistent.

As group discussions go on, these are much more productive than a Bill Maher roundtable or dueling cable news banjos. If they are serious, even a little sentimental at times, that only seals their sincerity. And while they’re not necessarily revealing – there are equally informative and insightful Twitter threads – they’re encouraging, even when the topic is disheartening; they remind us that not everyone is happy to let things continue to fall apart. The fact that the information is not all new – reports of burns go back more than a decade – underscores our tendency to sweep these issues under the table.

Jon Stewart, left, with panelists Capt Le Roy Torres (Ret.), Rosie Torres, Julie Tomaska, Sgt. Isiah James (Ret.), Gina Cancelino and Staff Sgt. Wesley Black (retired) on “The Problem With Jon Stewart”, now streaming on Apple TV +.

(Apple TV +)

At one point, Stewart referred to “The Problem With” as a “hybrid comedy” show, which is quite true; so far the non-comic elements are the strongest. (“I guess that answers the question of whether the show will be funny or not,” Stewart says when his opening joke gets no reaction; other times the laughter, even if it could have been. genuine, seemed frozen.) Stewart acts more. as a reporter here than a comedian making an impression of a; when he leaves the studio to interview Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, he notes that this is a first for him, and it is indeed a real exchange, motivated by the hope of action or change, not a classic “Daily Show” hoax.

It is difficult to judge this kind of programs on their first episodes; you hold them to previous shows from the host or current shows from other hosts, for comparison, but it’s rare for everything to work out of the box. “The Problem With Jon Stewart” feels a bit wobbly like a new colt, and the host spends time searching for his old beat, the soft-strong-soft approach, in which he goes from calm to horror to a person crouching in a croaking corner “helps”. He’s the funniest doing the little squeaky joke hanging on the back of the main joke, or the even more squeaky joke hanging on the back of it, or when he’s just comedic in conversation. A throwaway side in which he describes his audience as “a very large selection of Upper West Side Jews” is the voice you once recognize.

Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” which ran for half of “The Problem With,” was filled with other faces and voices – a wide range of talent that included John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams, Hasan Minhaj, Wyatt Cenac , Aasif Mandvi, Larry Wilmore, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert; if that wasn’t exactly the secret to his success, it certainly helped to overthrow him. You get a lot more of Stewart here – indeed, he’s rarely out of sight – and he’s not exactly the same man he was six years ago when he handed his rig to Trevor Noah. (Addressing “the elephant in the room” at Thursday’s premiere: “This is what I look like now. I’m not happy either.”) At the time, he was on TV most of the time. evenings, a motor of cultural conversations, and even public policy, who could afford to pretend he wasn’t and whose tenure ended with a performance by Bruce Springsteen, which brought the group on.

Back then, Stewart still insisted that what he was doing on “The Daily Show” was not news but a comedy; but there was more to it. Henny Youngman is also a comedy, and no one has ever taken him for an expert or a trusted news source. If such confusion was not precisely his fault, it was nevertheless his work. “The problem with Jon Stewart”, it is he who recognizes it.

“The problem with Jon Stewart”

Unclassified

Or: Apple TV +

When: Anytime, from Thursday


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