• Adam Johnson

Sarah Silverman Builds Cultural Bridges in Hulu's "I Love You, America"

I was thinking after a month's absence I would be reviewing one of the many movies I've seen yet not reviewed, but while I'm on a Hulu free trial, I checked out Sarah Silverman's new show I Love You, America, which is definitely worth talking about.

Just for some background, I'm not much of a Sarah Silverman fan. It's not that I dislike her material. I'm just not very familiar with it and I've never watched her much. The only reason I decided to watch this was because of a five-minute preview I saw and liked on my Twitter feed. In I Love You, America, Silverman aims to use humor and earnestness to bridge cultural gaps and go outside her "liberal bubble," as she calls it in the first episode. It's crude, irreverent, and, most importantly, thoughtful.

The series opens with a big musical number, which I'm always game for, being a theatre nerd at heart (Exhibit A: like a pretentious son of a gun, I spelled theatre "re" instead of "er"). It's an entertaining way to give us the pitch of the show: she loves America but there's still a lot she doesn't understand about it or its people. After this, the show goes into its standard late-night talk-show format. There's even a go-to white guy at a desk to bring us back to what we're comfortable with if things get too edgy and jarring, as the show is apt to get.

The highlight of the series so far is the pre-taped segments where she travels to strongly conservative cities to understand both their worldviews and them as people. The first episode sees her having dinner and spending time with a family in Chalmette, Louisiana, as they discuss their political and social views and why they hold them. The second takes her around a city in Texas for much of the same thing. While there's some great situational humor ("I didn't know a lot of Jewish people growing up because I'm from New Hampshire. But then I moved to New York and I'm like, oh my God!" "They got a lot?" is easily my favorite exchange in all of original online streaming), what I love about this is really the point of the show: to show viewers what happens when we care to have conversation with people we disagree with or do not understand. Silverman is strongly liberal, and the people she talks with are strongly conservative. They may not agree with each other, and they never change each other's mind. Heck, even within the family from Chalmette, there are disagreements on gay marriage, opinions on Trump's current presidency, and (sadly) President Obama's heritage (he's Hawaiian, folks). But what these segments show is that while we have our differences, everyone eats dinner... and poops.

I also greatly appreciate the last segment in which Silverman interviews people "who have experienced change." I was floored when her first guest was former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper, and she gave some background into the minds of extremists. Silverman even had a revelation during the interview. After Phelps-Roper explained that extremists are normal people and not psychopaths, Silverman said, "In my mind I went, 'I don't know about that,' but then I look at who I'm talking to and you're the perfect example of that." And even though I come from a different world then second guest and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, I still learned from him when he told Silverman how to best communicate with people of different beliefs--listening. As a person and a Christian, that is something I want to do more of. I want to understand where people come from; I want to love the people I come across. I need to listen to them in order to do any of that and be effective, on a personal level, in fulfilling that Great Commission.

The opening monologues are good, but they will not be to everyone's tastes. While talking about first-show jitters, Silverman pokes fun at the advice to imagine the audience naked--by having a man and a woman, right in the front row, fully-frontal buck naked and having a prolonged discussion about the reasons for censoring body parts on TV even if it's not sexual or titillating. (EDIT: Shortly after I posted this review, the naked guy actually liked my review on Instagram. Can I put that on my resume?) A monologue criticizing subjective truth and party loyalty over national loyalty also includes prolonged jokes about masturbation and pokes fun at Allah. But these monologues let us think about something bigger while laughing and do not spend any time, much less extended time, on Trump, like The Late Show and Late Night, which for some people I know, is a welcome change.

Sarah Silverman's I Love You, America is silly and thoughtful, and is off to a promising start. I think as its run continues, a couple of kinks will be ironed out and it'll learn its rhythm. I think people from all walks of life (though under-18s, this is not a show for you!) should give this show a shot, if at least to see how we might be able to create cultural bridges in our lives, if only to understand the Other Side. Silverman is very open about her way of thinking, and she encourages those she talks with to be open, too. I never got the impression anyone was being judged for the way they think. For that, I want to keep watching this, what looks to be a promising addition to the ever-growing late night line-up.

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