You probably think that you know the late-night landscape: Jimmy this and Jimmy that, Stephen Colbert being painfully unfunny. Guys in suits with a band and some guests from movies and TV. The usual thing.
And you know about the bland satire on The Daily Show and you keep meaning to check out this Seth Meyers guy, but he's on too late. So you watch Samantha Bee once a week or watch John Oliver on Sundays and it's all the same darn thing, really.
Well, you don't know it all. Over on Viceland, where they seem to spend most of the time talking about pot and food, they have their own late-night show. It's been on the air since October and it's on Viceland Canada, too. No suits, no band, no movie stars. But there is, of course, some chat about pot and food. That's in Vice's DNA.
It's Desus & Mero (Viceland, Monday to Thursday, 11 p.m.), which amounts to Desus Nice and The Kid Mero shooting the breeze about politics, sports, whatever is going on that day. Sometimes, there are guests but mainly journalists the two hosts happen to know. When the guest portion unfolds, the hosts sit at a small graffiti-covered table and the guest is squeezed in between them. Otherwise, they sprawl on armchairs. It emanates from Vice's HQ in Brooklyn and it is, frankly, a bizarre kind of late-night chat show. Topics on one night's show might include the difficulty of describing how white people smell/the quality of spicy peppers these days/who is or is not washed-up in the NBA/who Drake should be dating/whatever Donald Trump said or did that day.
Desus and Mero came here to the TV critics' press tour to introduce themselves and the show. This was smart, since few of us had heard of them. (Sorry Vice, but there is a lot of TV to cover.) Each presentation here is transcribed, and in the transcript of this presentation the word "unintelligible" appears often. No wonder. These guys talk fast and talk slang. They call it "the 'hood sensibility." Some viewers might go for "unintelligible."
Guy Slattery, general manager of Viceland, introduced the fellas. First, he pumped up Viceland, which is now a year old, as a TV entity. "We are a little, baby network, but in that short period of time, we've gone from crawling to walking to running," he said. "We've launched 30 new series of television, which we make all in-house at Vice, which is pretty unusual, and I think we are starting to prove ourselves to be a fresh new voice on the landscape. Audiences are really responding. Ratings are growing spectacularly. They've doubled just in the past six months. And more important than that, it is the type of audience we are getting. It's already one of the youngest, most diverse, most affluent, educated audiences on television and a very opinionated audience, too."
Right, well we all know that Vice is aimed at millennials but talking about babies and crawling isn't advisable. Anyway – there are no ratings available for Desus & Mero, but they don't care. They have other concerns. Like establishing their street cred. Before the presentation had actually started, Mero gazed out at about 200 journalists and said, "I got weed for you later. Just holler." Shocked we were not. We've seen very, very weird stuff.
Erik Rydholm, who produces the show – he mainly just edits down the riffs, rants and chats to suit the half-hour format – barely got a word in. But he did explain that before this show, he'd spent 16 years producing sports-chat shows for ESPN. Desus & Mero does bear a strong resemblance to those rapid-fire, guys-bellowing shows on sports TV. The show's format is similar to ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, with a list of topics on the screen to be covered quickly. Rydholm did say he felt lucky to work on this show because Desus and Mero "have incredible chemistry." He didn't mention pot or food, oddly.
It's true there's chemistry. They're old friends from the Bronx (Desus is 34 and Mero is 32) and can finish each other's sentences. According to Mero, "I used to actually stand in front of the Bodega shirtless, begging people to buy me beer, and one day he came, and he obliged, and here we are." And they have their own vernacular for discussing the day's news. Trump is usually "President Cheeto," for instance.
Claiming, as Vice does, the show is "a fresh but new voice" is a stretch. But it's clear the two fellas have contempt for conventional talk shows. Desus cocked up an eyebrow and kind of sneered, "Yo, Jimmy Fallon plays instruments with U2. That's cool. But now what are you gonna do, Jimmy? Read some bad headlines? We don't do that. And the only thing we won't do is boring shit. Vice says to us, like, 'Do whatever you want. Just don't get arrested.'"
Asked, "Would you like to be taken seriously?" the two fellas seemed a bit flummoxed. Mero answered, "If you mean, like, by the establishment, like with the Emmys and that type of shit, I dunno." Desus said their audience already takes them seriously. "They are not coming here for shucky-ducky, quack-quack jokes. They are coming for introspective, detailed analysis with kind of a 'hood sensibility of what's going on in life. We wouldn't say something reckless and provocative just to get a laugh. And we know there's a certain gravitas to what we say."
Now, "gravitas" might be the wrong term, but Desus & Mero is a show that's sometimes refreshing in its bluntness. There are no writers on the show. There are no producers to book Hollywood talent peddling a movie or TV show. The influence of morning radio is obvious and these guys do seem authentic. "This is our real lives, this is not an act," Mero says. "And Viceland lets us cook it."
What's being cooked so far is more novelty act than TV event. But these two fellas are ambitious and they are not the usual thing. Unintelligible often, you might want to get to know them a little. Just a little.