When I was a teenager, I’d set the VCR every night to tape David Letterman. Late Night started at 1 AM where I lived, sometimes 1:30 AM, so staying up to watch the show—in a house where we had one TV—was beyond my reach. But as soon as I came home from school the next day, I’d sit in front of that TV with a big bowl of ice cream and soak up the comedy genius. Letterman shaped my sense of irony, which I refuse to release even though it’s only served me moderately well, as well as my disdain for celebrities, which I will grip tightly to my chest as my corpse gets wheeled into the crematorium. He spoke a secret language to me that was, by today’s standards, difficult to obtain.
Slowly, and then all at once, TV became instantly available, on multiple devices. No teenager ever has to record anything, except for videos of themselves reacting to other people’s videos. But I can’t imagine my teenage son even thinking of watching Letterman’s new show, My Next Guest, available now and forever on Netflix. Letterman releases one episode a month, a slow production pace even by the standards of someone who can do whatever the hell they want. Even though I didn’t start it until Letterman already had three in the bank, it still took me three whole months to watch the five episodes that he’s released to date. Letterman used to be a relief from the bullshit of school. Now he feels like homework.
The opening episode, featuring Barack Obama, was so mind-numbingly dull that I fell asleep on my living room floor in the middle. I woke up fifteen minutes later and asked my wife what I missed. “Nothing,” she said. While I miss the Obama years as much as any good bourgeois Democrat, he offers nothing but homilies, and Letterman does everything but remove his shoes and kiss his feet. Then, in an interstitial segment, Letterman walks across a bridge in Montgomery with Representative John Lewis. When we return to the Obama interview, Letterman remarks that when John Lewis was a teenager, he was protesting civil rights injustices. Letterman, on the other hand, was getting drunk on a cruise ship with his buddies from Indiana. He clearly feels bad about his misspent youth.
The show should be retitled Dave Letterman’s Cavalcade Of Liberal Guilt. He’s atoning for all his sins, and all of ours. Half of his George Clooney “interview” gets spent discussing Amal Clooney’s human-rights work, and a visit to Clooney’s boyhood home turns into a condescending and strange segment where Letterman goes driving with an Iraqi refugee. Suddenly, at this heavily-bearded stage in his career, Letterman feels like he must make up for a lifetime spent hosting Stupid Pet Tricks, reading Top 10 lists, flirting with Sarah Jessica Parker, and sucking on Jennifer Aniston’s hair. Instead, he talks to Malala about girls’ education in developing countries and lets everyone know that he thinks racism is bad.