It’s a wonder that being able to entertain our bleary-eyed selves is such a grand achievement, but late-night television is big business in the USA.
Punters like us get to enjoy the YouTube spoofs and celebrity sketches, and names like Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and Chelsea Handler get to rake in hefty pay checks that come with dominating the late-night time slot.
In Late Night, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is one of these rare TV hosts, recognised as a legendary pioneer in the industry. When Katherine gets the news her long-standing show might be axed, she hires Molly (Mindy Kaling) to be the first woman in her all-male writer’s room. Katherine hopes her “diversity hire” will fix her reputation as a “woman who hates women”, and give her show the ratings boost it needs to secure another season.
For fans who watch on, Late Night is a fascinating snippet into the well-oiled machine that produces ‘impromptu’ comedy. What the hosts make look easy, is the product of hours of re-writes and audience testing and, at times, fierce competition between co-workers. A day’s work can end with your joke being cut and as one comic says, “you go home having achieved exactly what you would have if you’d called in sick”.
Beyond its work-experience insight, Late Night is also speaking to our era of hierarchical adjustment.
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Molly is a self-confessed minority sitting in a room of people who are identical to each other. She was hired out of guilt, but has an opportunity to prove the importance of diverse perspectives. As the implications of #MeToo also reach the writers’ room, Late Night shows how these ‘media movements’ can influence real life behind the scenes.
Late Night also makes a very astute observation about the younger generation’s fascination with catharsis. At one point, Katherine is morally compromised and Molly encourages her to tell her truth to the world. Katherine objects with the belief that catharsis equals redemption, saying it’s really a product of narcissism. Wow. In a generation bogged down by #authenticity, that’s worth thinking about.
For a movie with a lot to say, thankfully it avoids the self-righteous indignation you might expect. Its one-liners are on point, and it dodges flagrant man-bashing by having Katherine Newbury at the helm.
Late Night’s certainly geared to an American audience, but its social reflections are valuable the world over.
Late Night is in cinemas now. Rated M