As Peter Mansbridge wraps up the National each night, I detect a slight smirk crossing the usually austere newsman's lips as he introduces George Stroumboulopoulos.
Strombo, the sideburned, sleepy-eyed ex-VJ, is the over-hyped host of The Hour, a Daily Show- and Access Hollywood-inspired wankfest that sets out to answer such burning questions as "Are African babies the new Von Dutch trucker hat?" It also unintentionally asks how much journalistic integrity the CBC will sacrifice to attract younger viewers.
I've watched every episode so far this season - even the Sunday-night Tragically Hip hand job - and can safely say that The Hour is at times pedestrian, pointless and painful to watch. And as a host, Strombo falls somewhere between Rick Mercer and Ralph Benmergui.
After the retina-abusing opening credits, Strombo starts the show invariably wearing black shirt, jeans and Adidas sneakers, invariably slouching against a chair, invariably appearing bored. His New Music demeanour is sufficiently slacker for the attention-deficit demo he's trying to reach, as are the celebrity interviews that follow, handled as they are with backslapping, ass-kissing aplomb.
When Strombo starts to question Ludacris about the language in his lyrics, for example, the rapper responds with, "People who live in glass houses," to which Strombo, hands wide open, says, "Hey, no stones here." That's exactly what Strombo lacks when it comes to asking the tough questions of guests with something other than a record or movie to sell.
Strombo's first question to Margaret Trudeau, on the show to discuss her humanitarian work in East Africa, is "How's Justin?" The best he can do against polished politico Michael Ignatieff is a smart-alecky "Did you steal Bob Rae's Kraft dinner in college?"
He lets Charles McVety, the head of the Canada Christian College, speak against gay marriage almost uncontested. He interrupts McVety only after several minutes and then only to say that he'll allow McVety to continue to speak "under protest" because they're "almost out of time."
Packaged around the interviews is a confusing mix of celeb gossip (in a segment called The News) and the day's news (in a segment called Mile A Minute). Both are just excuses for sarcastic schoolyard smart-assery about things like Kate Moss's rumoured pregnancy ("Now she's snorting for two") and global warming ("In the future, Iceland will just be called Land").
Strombo uses up a lot of oxygen bitching about the stories he has to talk about. He even goes so far as to ask God to kill him when it comes time for a story on Nick Carter's and Paris Hilton's sex lives. While I understand your misgivings, George, it's your show. Accept it and stop whining.
While a little Strombo goes a long way, The Hour is a lot of airtime for one personality to fill. Even Jon Stewart has countless correspondents, and his show's only 30 minutes long.
So the producers have started introducing other elements, with varying success. The Panel Van is barely a clever title, Samantha Bee wannabe Hilary Doyle's how-to segments are uninformative and unfunny, and Jian Ghomeshi's cellphone photos are, well, Jian Ghomeshi's cellphone photos.
The show's final segment, The Closer, can either be mildly amusing - emailing British PM Tony Blair, calling him "bro" and ending with "PS you were great in Love Actually" - or mildly insulting, as when Strombo promo'd upcoming shows with "Hey bitches, coming up this week..."
Not cool, bro. We aren't your bong buddies. No wonder Mansbridge looks pissed.
The Hour airs Monday to Thursday at 8 pm on Newsworld and 11 pm on CBC.
What to watch this week
Thursday, November 2
The O.C. Will Marissa's death give the show new life?
7 pm on CTV and 9 pm on Fox
Saturday, November 4
DA ALI G SHOW MARATHON The entire second season featuring the original wanksta journalist and his Kazakh pal Borat.
10 pm on Showcase
Wednesday, November 8
ED'S UP Barenaked Lady Ed Robertson gets a lesson in ocean survival.
8 pm on OLN