Among the Lectures, a Bit of Shtick
Rosie O’Donnell’s new talk show, her first since 2002, is shown live and offers a mix of standup comedy, music, dance and one-on-one chats with celebrities about menopause creams and breast reduction. Especially compared with the solemn, mostly repurposed fare that clutters the rest of OWN, “The Rosie Show” is colorful and spontaneous: the funny cousin who shows up for a family ceremony late and lets suitcases of clothes, shoes and presents spill out all across the living room floor.
It’s not perfect television, it’s amusing television, and a reminder of why so many other OWN programs, beautifully shot and expertly produced, seem so dull.
Ms.O’Donnell’s debut on Monday preceded the premiere of another OWN show, “Oprah’s Lifeclass.” These are lectures built around clips of old interviews with the likes of Jim Carrey, J. K. Rowling and Ellen DeGeneres that Ms. Winfrey, seated in an armchair, uses to illustrate an “Aha!” moment.
Mr. Carrey, for example, told Ms. Winfrey in 1997 that he had visualized success and willed it to happen, writing himself a $10 million check as inspiration. Ms. Winfrey this week described Mr. Carrey as one of “our greatest teachers.”
Ms. Winfrey also used her own past as a morality tale, showing her famous weight-loss reveal in 1988, when she dragged a red wagon laden with 67 pounds of fat; on “Lifeclass” she said it illustrated “the false power of ego.” (She didn’t explain why it was any less egotistical to brag about feeling less compelled to lose weight.)
“Oprah’s Lifeclass” is “The Oprah Winfrey Show” with the life sucked out of it. Episodes of that series are also being reshown on OWN. And the best of them reveal all too clearly that her success didn’t spring solely from the New Age-y self-improvement lessons, but from Ms. Winfrey’s spirited interactions with guests and audiences. She wasn’t always so spiritually “mindful.” A lot of the time she was irreverent, bold and even at times shocking.
Ms. O’Donnell isn’t Oprah Winfrey, but she has a friendly rapport with guests like Russell Brand, Wanda Sykes and Roseanne Barr, as well as people in her studio audience, who ask questions that she answers in the style of the old “Carol Burnett Show.” Ms. Burnett is not Ms.O’Donnell’s only role model. She has often said she wants to recreate the kind of fun, easygoing talk show Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin used to host in the ’60s and ’70s. And like them, Ms. O’Donnell is willing to be silly, be it singing with shirtless male dancers or hosting nutty quiz rounds with celebrity guests.
The celebrity interviews are relaxed and often quite intimate. She and Ms. Sykes discovered that as little girls, they both fantasized about having children, not with a husband, but as single mothers. “I guess that’s what little lesbians tell themselves,” Ms. O’Donnell said.
Ms. O’Donnell always makes a lot of Spanx jokes, but even she seemed a little taken aback by the singer Gloria Estefan, who confided that she wears Spanx with a crotch opening and thus doesn’t need to use paper seat covers in public toilets.
There is a redemptive thread to this talk show as well, which is perhaps a requirement for all OWN programming. Ms. O’Donnell left “The View” in 2007, after only a year as a co-host, in semidisgrace after publicly feuding with Donald Trump and her fellow hosts Barbara Walters and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
That debacle led to a confessional memoir, “Celebrity Detox,” about her struggles with fame and anger, themes that pop up as self-deprecating jokes in her stand-up comedy.
On the premiere of her show on Monday, Ms. O’Donnell performed a mock cabaret number with her own lyrics to “The Night Chicago Died.” (“Remember my problems on ‘The View’/I told Hasselbeck a thing or two.”)
She also discussed rehab with Mr. Brand, a former drug addict, and breast cancer with Ms. Sykes, who caught hers early and is in full recovery. But serious issues don’t get in the way of what Ms. O’Donnell does best: amiable, free-floating conversation that seems unscripted and unpretentious.
“The Rosie Show” is an OWN program that doesn’t ask viewers to look inside themselves; it just entices them to watch.