The Soup Investigates: Wednesday’s at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on E! TV
Believe it or not, there was a time when E! TV was defined by something other than the Kardashians. In this time, their entertainment news empire instead focused on a clip-driven comedy show (that would ultimately be the forerunner for shows like Tosh.0, Ridiculousness, I Love the…, and any number of any other ridiculously cheap series) called Talk Soup that was a cult phenomenon throughout the 1990’s. The series, which at that time lampooned trash TV legends such as Jerry Springer and Geraldo, would be revived in 2004 under the careful watch of Joel McHale, switch to mocking bad reality TV, and be rechristened The Soup. It’s success has led E! to generate a spinoff (much like it did for late night sensation Chelsea Lately) in the form of The Soup Investigates which debuted Wednesday night.
The Soup Investigates takes the basic soup formula of digging for the most ridiculous things you can find in order to mock them, and puts a laser focus on them. Instead of the quick riffing formula you see on the main show, Investigates tends to focus on more fully thought out pieces. Unlike similar mock news show The Daily Show, the show eschews a current events focus for pop culture mockery, and seems to derive its’ format from news magazine shows like Dateline and 20/20.
Our premiere provides a number of interesting conceits, including harassing a bunch of young Bieber fans about Bieber’s aging process. This follows up with a critical investigation into the roses from The Bachelor that ends up turning into a satire of the show’s format in which a correspondent takes his love of the show a little too seriously. The third and final story of the night involves a correspondent going storage hunting before stumbling upon Tila Tequila’s storage unit.
With quick and inexpensive shows of this ilk, the single most important question you can ask is: Did this make me laugh? Well actually, it did and did so in a surprisingly offbeat way for it’s network. While I expected that a lot of the pieces would involve lampooning pop culture, I could see a piece like Bieber’s age advanced photos sitting well in a Wonder Showzen-esque sort of show, playing as much of it’s subject’s discomfort as the audiences. The Storage Unit segment, conversely, seems like the sort of bit that will play well with the show’s intended audience: people who will watch this as a bridge between The Soup and Chelsea Lately
For a show marketed around McHale, it becomes apparent very quickly that he is not the centerpiece of the show, as he receives less screen time than any of his correspondents do and predominantly exists to set up the show’s prerecorded pieces. Personally, I would like to have seen a little more interaction between McHale and the correspondents, but for this episode it’s fairly understandable as the Bachelor rose segment benefited by straddling a commercial break at a key juncture (because reality shows have never been guilty of such a thing, ever, right?).
The Final Verdict: The Soup Investigates is a lot of things, but outside of a somewhat similar format, the one thing that can be safely said is that it’s not a Daily Show clone. Instead what you get is a mixed bag of surprisingly dark humor and spot on stealth parodies of much of the dreck that occupies the airwaves in this day and age. It’s not exactly that most groundbreaking television, but as something to occupy the space between the E! tent-poles that both lead in and out of it or as a show to watch when nothing else is on, you can do a lot worse. Check it out, you’ll probably laugh more than you expect.