I Love You, America

Sarah Silverman gets surprisingly sincere on her new Hulu variety show "I Love You America."

PHOTO COURTESY OF HULU

Some shows record before a live studio audience for the sake of the loud, appreciative laughter. I think comedian Sarah Silverman uses an audience for “I Love You America” largely for the awkward silences.

“I Love You America,” which premieres new episodes every Thursday on Hulu, exists in this weird space between variety show, political talk show, sketch comedy show and whatever kind of show would involve an interview with a completely nude couple. “You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment if you came into this with any idea what it is supposed to be,” she tells the audience in last Thursday’s debut episode.

Boy, is she right. But the strange cocktail of earnestness and sarcasm, sincerity and self-awareness, political commentary and dumb gags, is like nothing else on television or streaming. There were several points during the premiere episode where I had a very strange “I don’t know what this is" feeling. In television, where we can pretty much figure out what every show is going for within the first five minutes, that bewilderment feels oddly... refreshing?

The show begins with an opening musical sequence in which Silverman sings her praises of these United States, “from the East Coast to the West, and whatever’s in between.” Silverman’s comedic persona, the self-involved liberal who’s not nearly as smart or as woke as she thinks, is perfectly suited to these times.

But she’s being sincere, not sarcastic, in titling the show “I Love You America.” The opening credits depict the country as an angry, tantrum-throwing red, white and blue baby. But it's our baby. 

Thursday’s episode, for example, features Silverman visiting a Louisiana family of Trump supporters. We think we know what’s coming from “The Daily Show” and a dozen shows like it — Silverman will make fun of the hapless red-staters for our amusement, and the dumb yokels won’t even realize she’s doing it. That’s entertainment.

Instead, Silverman attempts to find common ground with the family members, and have downright neighborly conversations over dinner about how they feel about Trump, Obamacare and gay marriage. There are points where they agree, points where they agree to disagree, and other points they just plain disagree. But it’s the sort of civil, across-the-back-fence political argument that we’ve been taught to believe had gone extinct in America, because (insert whatever political group is the opposite of yours) just can’t be reasoned with.

For the interview portion of the first episode, Silverman didn’t interview any famous actor or politician, instead talking to Megan Phelps-Roper, who left the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church and was disowned by her family. Silverman said she wants to interview people on the show who have experienced change, if only to show the rest of us that a change of heart or change of mind is possible.

And then there are the naked people.

Does it all fit together? Probably not. But then again, neither does America, and we still like living here.

Also on streaming: Those who got to see Patton Oswalt perform at the Orpheum Theater this year witnessed a revelatory performance by the comedian, who dug deep into turmoil both political and personal (his wife died in 2016). The show, now called “Annihilation,” streams on Netflix starting Tuesday.

Fans of David Fincher’s dark masterpiece “Zodiac” will likely flock to Netflix for his new TV show, “Mindhunters,” which looks at FBI agents in the 1970s trying to understand the mindset of serial killers. The show is extra creepy, in a way, because it doesn’t show any of the crimes, instead focusing on interrogations between the cops and the killers.

BritBox is premiering a new six-episode series starring Sean Bean, and the good news is that the actor seems like he’ll survive the entire series, instead of getting offed like he was in one of “Game of Thrones'” most notorious twists. In “Broken,” which premieres this week, Bean plays a troubled priest who connects with a destitute parishioner (Anna Friel), and the show is both a bleak working-class drama and something a bit more sinister.

Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.