All late-night shows — especially new ones — are works in progress. That means you can learn a lot more from a week's worth of shows than from one episode. In that spirit, I watched the first week of Trevor Noah's Daily Show and came back with these five moments that highlight what is and isn't working so far.
Positive: Noah compares Donald Trump to several African presidents
The best Daily Show of Noah's first week was the Thursday show, and by far its best bit was this extended riff on the idea that Noah found Donald Trump sort of welcoming, because the billionaire reminded him of several African leaders. By far the pinnacle here is when the package cuts together Trump and former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin saying much the same things.
What makes this package so exciting isn't just that it's funny — though it is that. It's that it feels like something unique to Noah's version of The Daily Show. Jon Stewart might have done something like this, but it never would have had the sly charm Noah brings to the bit. The punchline when he says Trump would be America's first "African president" kills precisely because Noah seems so pleased to be getting away with it. (Noah's laughter at his own jokes was one of the first week's weaker points, but he gets away with it here.)
Pitfall: Noah interviews Chris Christie
This was the best of Trevor Noah's first-week interviews — and it shows just how far he has to go if he's going to be as effective at the task as Stewart was (and Stewart was far from a great interviewer). The chat with Christie is breezy, and it's obvious Noah has the basics down when it comes to asking the candidate strong questions. But there's very little sense that he's in control of the discussion, or that he's willing to push in slightly less affable directions.
This is not to say Noah needs to enter every interview in a confrontational manner, but he's too often unable to salvage an interview that's headed in a direction he didn't want to go. This is where his greenness is most evident.
Positive: Roy Wood Jr. is the show's early star
One nice thing about a new host: There are new correspondents as well. In the first week of this new Daily Show, the early star has been Roy Wood Jr., whose seeming exasperation with everyone around him hits a perfect pitch when he assures Noah that black people aren't going to get to go to Mars — even if NASA found water there. It was a fun way to cover a story every other late-night show was going to have multiple jokes about, and it cemented Wood as someone to watch.
Pitfall: The show is still willing to do elaborate correspondent pieces
To be perfectly honest, this 10-minute bit on police violence is funnier in theory than it is in practice. Wood and Jordan Klepper (a fixture of Stewart's later period) head out to Madison, Wisconsin, to learn lessons about the roots of police bias, and in the end the joke is on Klepper, who doesn't realize his own prejudices. It's a classic Daily Show bit, but it's also a slog.
That said, it's nice to see the series still digging into some meatier topics and correspondent packages. As the show gets its feet back under it, these will almost certainly grow sharper.
Pitfall: Noah addresses the Oregon shooting
At the top of Thursday's show, Noah took a brief moment to discuss the mass shooting at an Oregon community college, which was dominating headlines but wouldn't be the subject of that night's Daily Show. His message was that he had no words, that he would simply pivot to put on a comedy show and to try to make people laugh.
It was a marked contrast to how Stewart handled the summer's racially motivated shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, or how Stephen Colbert handled the Oregon shooting on his own late-night program. And it underlined one of Noah's biggest early weaknesses, but one he could grow out of the longer his show is on the air. He simply lacks a position of authority from which to speak when it comes to matters like this.
The better he becomes at his job, and the better we get to know him, however, the more authority he will have. If any moment in his first week displayed how monumental the task Noah has ahead of him is, it was this one. But it also displayed that he's aware of what he needs to do and where he needs to go.
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah airs Monday through Thursday at 11 pm Eastern on Comedy Central.