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Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Comedy Central's '@midnight' Is Silly and Often Pretty Funny

The late night arena is now more cluttered than ever, with 17 comedy shows filling the airwaves every week between the hours of 11pm and 2am. Comedy Central added another show to the mix, @midnight, last night, expanding their hit Daily Show/Colbert Report late night block to 12:30am for the first time ever. At least @midnight stands apart from the growing herd of late night series in that it's not a talk show; it's a game show.

@midnight is hosted by Chris Hardwick, who in interviews and on the program is wary and self-mocking about audiences tiring of him hosting so many shows. At the top of the first episode, Hardwick, who also hosts BBC America's The Nerdist, the podcast of the same name, and AMC post-shows Talking Dead and Talking Bad, calls @midnight "the show I'm hosting that is oddly not about another show." @midnight stands out from anything on TV in the way it embraces Twitter (and social media in general), and that's already led it to solid ratings with younger viewers.

Off its first episode, @midnight succeeds at being a well-oiled and occasionally funny game show, and that's because Chris Hardwick has been doing live test shows at his NerdMelt Theater in LA for the past few months. In each episode, Hardwick plays host to three comedian panelists as he guides them through a series of social media-related challenges. His guests on the premiere are Kumail Nanjiani, Natasha Leggero, and Doug Benson, who all prove quick on their feet and have some funny moments together. Each episode of @midnight's success will largely depend on the strength of the guests, and @midnight has some funny and talented comedians lined up for the first week: Kurt Braunohler, Andy Daly, James Adomian, June Diane Raphael, Kyle Kinane, and (one of the show's executive producers) Tom Lennon. While some of those comedians are well-known, many  of them are probably more familiar to podcast fans and comedy nerds than to your average TV watcher, so it's pretty exciting to see a bunch of beloved comedy people like that get to be on TV a little bit more via this show.

Produced by Funny or Die and created by Jason Nadler, Jon Zimelis, and social media whiz Alex Blagg, @midnight is at its best when the challenges are particularly clever. Highlights from the first episode include the great internet find that is Anderson Cooper's real Pinterest page for a bunch of creepy, life-like baby dolls, and a game called "OkCupid or Serial Killer?" where contestants guess whether a quote comes from an OkCupid profile or a famous serial killer, which proves surprisingly difficult. The show will likely be trying to figure out its best go-to segments over the next few weeks, and hopefully there are more in store that're as strong as that last one.

Late night TV may be getting awfully crowded, but @midnight is plugging a different hole than its ever-growing assortment of ratings rivals. Starting next week, the show will be facing competition from TBS's new late night show, hosted by Pete Holmes (who hosts a show on Hardwick's podcast network and also has Kumail Nanjiani as an inaugural guest), but things should be fine for the series as its different enough from the other 16 — soon to be 17 — late night shows on the air.