BRAND X WITH RUSSELL BRAND: Thursday 11PM on FX – Change the Channel
Russell Brand has been more or less flailing around for the past several years, trying to find a place in American pop culture. His introduction to most domestic audiences came with his role as the comically dissipated rock star in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (a part he played again in Get Him To the Greek), and that’s pretty much been his persona here, other than his tabloid role as the now-ex-husband of Katy Perry. Although he’s famously sober at this point in his life, and although he’s capable of acting that way (as in his small role in Julie Taymor’s unsuccessful film of The Tempest), Brand is identified almost exclusively with seeming to be somewhere between tipsy and smashed, a shtick that may already have run its course, considering that audiences completely rejected him as a leading man in the awful remake of Arthur last year (and his supporting presence in Rock of Ages hasn’t done anything to help that flop).
Now Brand is trying a different approach. BRAND X WITH RUSSELL BRAND has been described as a “talk show,” but based on its initial episode, it’s really a weekly stand-up comedy routine with some talk-show accountrements. Brand picks a topic–in this episode it was spirituality, taking off from his having met the Dalai Lama–and expounds on it for half an hour in his spacey, run-on sentence way. He shares the stage with Matt Stoller, a political blogger and former Congressional aide (who happens to be the brother of Nicholas Stoller, director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To the Greek), not quite a sidekick or a straight man, but someone to punctuate Brand’s monologue with some stonefaced references to real-life figures and statistics that Brand can use to segue to the next section of his talk. In last week’s episode, Stoller suggested that US figures with Dalai Lama-ish spiritual influence could include people like Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffett, allowing Brand to get some laughs out of them. There’s also a bit of audience participation, both the old-fashioned kind with Brand stepping into the crowd to ask questions and chat, and with instant polls.
One’s feeling about Brand X will be inseparable from how one feels about Brand as a comic. His social and political jabs certainly aren’t anything like Jon Stewart’s or Stephen Colbert’s, and those who find Brand’s looping (and loopy), pseudo-stoned wanderings through a subject will enjoy the trip. What seems unlikely is Brand winning many new fans by doing another version of what he’s been doing all along. In Brand X, the star is preaching to the converted.