Good news: The Daily Show is back, and it's almost exactly as you remember it. Almost.
Since Jon Stewart said his final goodbyes to the show in early August, the Comedy Central marketing machine has been relentless, to a fault, in assuring the audience that nothing is really changing. Same show, new stuff. Same chair, different ass. And so on and so forth.
So it's not too surprising that in Noah's debut, the young host pretty much kept to the status quo — and for the most part, he succeeded at that.
"I can assume that this is as strange for you as it is for me," Noah said, kicking off the show with some words on his predecessor. "Jon Stewart was more than just a late-night host. He was often our voice, our refuge, and in many ways, our political dad. And it's weird, because dad has left. And now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he's black."
Going through news segments on the Pope and John Boehner — and yes, the news segments followed the structure beats as before, replete with pun-filled headlines ("A Prayer Home Companion"), ridiculous photoshops, and a heavy reliance on captured TV footage — Noah seemed to echo Stewart right down to the intonation and the occasional silly voice. (Most of Stewart's writing and production staff stayed on, so the similarities aren't too surprising.) The whole thing was reminiscent of when John Oliver took over while Stewart filmed his movie, in that it's a new host with a familiar script. Same beats, different presenter.
But while the top half of the show was in fine form, it's the interview portion where Noah will need to find his footing. Booking Kevin Hart as the first guest is a big draw but also a high-energy challenge for the inexperienced host. Hart is, at his core, the concept of entropy in corporeal form. At times, Noah seemed to struggle to keep up with his guest or steer the conversation where he wanted it to go. It'll be interesting to see how Noah interacts with the rest of the guests in week one — Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe, Republican candidate Chris Christie, and Taylor Swift fan club member Ryan Adams — which by design run the gamut in personalities and backgrounds.
It's only day one, though, and as with any other late-night host, it's going to take Noah time to find his own voice and hone his interview skills. To his credit, Noah seems adept at jumping headfirst into the well-oiled machine he has inherited — in the 16 years under Jon Stewart, The Daily Show won two Peabody Awards and 23 Emmys — and to an audience that grew up on Stewart, maintaining that familiarity is a priority. But The Daily Show is now by necessity in transition. Same ship, new captain.