Sarah Silverman’s ‘I Love You, America’ Uses Comedy to Bridge Political Differences

Warm fuzzy feelings and late night TV aren’t exactly the most compatible tandems out there. That has been especially true over the past year, with most popular late night hosts using their platforms to skewer the President, decry proposed healthcare legislation or, in one show’s case, force celebrities to read mean tweets out loud. But Sarah Silverman, Hulu and Funny or Die hope to change all that with “I Love You, America,” a show geared toward bringing people together instead of tearing them apart.

In theory, the idea behind “I Love You, America” sounds like a good one: Have a renowned comedian sing some songs and mingle with a slew of people with radically different philosophies from her own. It’s a good idea in practice, too, at least for a while. For the show’s debut on Hulu, Silverman’s opening number praises America and calls for some all-important unity while wondering what makes a good ally. It’s different and kind of fresh, but it’s hard to figure out how far this bit can really go.

The show’s structure — song, monologue, field segment and finally a guest — feels traditional enough, but it’s the music in between the notes that gives “I Love You, America” its unique spin. Silverman’s monologue functions as a mission statement for the whole show, one aimed at creating conversations with people outside of her sociopolitical comfort zone. It’s a good idea, but is it a funny one?

For her first segment in the field, Silverman sat down to dinner with a Louisiana family who voted for Donald Trump. They also hated Obama because, as they’ll quickly tell you, he supported freeloaders, even though they make it clear their healthcare comes from the government. Silverman ends up having a perfectly lovely sit-down with the family, complete with her gifting a child a fart machine and giving him a hug to close off the segment, which ultimately felt sweet, but not all that amusing. Yes, it feels like a plea for viewers to explore outside perspectives, but too much of the segment felt like a manufactured safe space and less like a probing exploration — not that we were expecting a National Geographic-level documentary.

Things do pick up steam, though, when Silverman welcomes her first guest, former westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper, for a surprisingly enlightening conversation looking at a vilified fringe group. Phelps-Roper pulls no punches about her past, recalling celebrating tragedies like 9/11 because of the church’s dark doctrines that claim anyone outside of it is evil. She recounts how social media started to make her question her life-long teachings, a nagging doubt that eventually pulled her away from the church entirely and into the arms of her husband, who Silverman describes as “your Twitter troll.”

Aside from the blatant nudity, which this reviewer could have done without, Hulu’s latest offering and first foray into late night TV feels like a concept that will wear thin by episode 3. Everything about it seems well-intentioned — reaching across the aisle to bring Americans together — but it’s hard to take Silverman seriously as the right person for the job, and it’s even harder to take the show seriously as anything other than a cuddly answer to network late night’s claws-out mentality.

I Love You, America” premiered Oct. 12 and airs Thursday nights on Hulu.