One of my favourite animated holiday specials, especially of those made in the last 25 years, is “Olive, the Other Reindeer.” Among the executive producers were Matt Groening — creator of The Simpsons — and Drew Barrymore. She also voiced the lead character, Olive, a determined little doggie who thought she could help guide Santa’s sleigh as a reindeer.
Watching Barrymore’s new daytime talk show this week, all I could think of was “Olive.” Both shows, it seems to me, are done in the same voice.
This is not a put down. Olive was special because she had a plucky spirit that shone and a will to do the impossible, two things you need these days if you’re going to make a dent in the crowded talk show field. In terms of brand recognition, Barrymore also has a lifetime of celebrity that dates back to when she was a wee child befriending aliens in Steven Spielberg movies.
The Drew Barrymore Show, seen weekday afternoons at 3 p.m. ET on Global and on many CBS affiliates, sets out to be a positive oasis in a world that sometimes seems to be literally on fire. The 45-year-old walks out onto her wide, New York-based set and quickly turns to face a giant wall filled with, as she calls them, “virtual friends.”
This is 2020, COVID times, and thus the studio bleachers are empty. It’s a bit like how things are now at NFL stadiums with no fans and just one cheerleader — in this case, Barrymore.
She shouts and cheers and does everything but wave pompoms in saying hello. Her hair, clothes, everything is all copper and gold, as is her wide and interchangable set. Along with no studio audience there is no band or bandleader, no sidekick. It’s all on her, and she quickly demonstrates that she indeed has enough spirit and energy to fill a soundstage.
There are, however, guests, mainly up on the giant screen. On Tuesday’s show, viewers were introduced to a young lad who crochets — Jonah Larson. Barrymore had him on her unaired pilot, loved him, and explains that she plans to have him return as a special kid correspondent. That’s fun, but, as with the “Olive” thing, there already is something a little Afterschool special about this new Drew.
That’s maybe era appropriate. Kids and parents are struggling through uncertain times. Barrymore has two daughters, and clearly has helped craft a show that will appeal as much to them as it will to adults who are at home during the day at this time.
That’s the vibe through “Drew’s News.” The host sits behind a wide, wood-panelled desk and throws to all sorts of positive, empowering information. Write postcards to seniors, she suggests, holding up a page of beautiful stamps showing her grandfather, John and the grand trio of Barrymores who lit up American stages and screens in the ’20s and ’30s. Other news include beauty tips from the stars, so set PVR’s accordingly.
Barrymore will indeed showcase celebrity friends on her series. Tuesday it was Reese Witherspoon up on that giant wall screen. Barrymore sat in a chair, back to the non-audience and chatted with the actress. The two have been friends since they were 14. Barrymore credited Withspoon — a mom since her early twenties — for showing the way as an actress and a mother.
Everything was very positive, but the girl talk quickly got too sticky and kissy-kissy. It might have worked better had the two stars been together on stage in the same room, with cutaway shots to the audience leavening the “You’re a great woman,” “No, you’re a great mother!” moments. Again, if you’re starved for the positive vibes you used to find on shows such as, well, Ellen, Barrymore may be for you.
A commercial break, and Barrymore comes bouncing back, proudly proclaiming, “I am a non-stop ball of energy!” The show switches focus as she welcomes two of her favourite children’s books contributors, author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Gordon C. James. The two African-American men — on screen via satellite — are praised for their wonderful books, including “Crown” and their latest, “I Am Every Good Thing.” The books “sets kids on a trajectory of empowerment,” we are told. Several young readers appear on screen raving about the books and the drawings.
The illustrations are charming, and Barrymore is gifted with an original rendering by James; it shows the actress with her daughters. The segment sounds treacle-y, but you can tell Barrymore has mom-tested these books. Her set, as you become more and more aware, is filled with books on towering bookcases.
Later there’s another celeb interview and this time it’s with comedian Billy Eichner, who is sitting on stage with Barrymore. Wait a minute, he’s not — he’s in LA and she’s in New York and he’s there in some sort of hologram form. Imagine if Barrymore’s old crush David Letterman could have just eliminated guests with the push of a button — or could have made Barrymore re-appear in place of another guest. The gimmick here actually works fine, and if they hadn’t told me they weren’t actually on stage together, I never would have known.
“THANK YOU BILLY!” Barrymore shouts at the end.
Another ad, and the show returns for a short, final segment. It lasts one minute, thirty-five seconds according to the timer on screen. Drew does a last chat with her wall full of virtual friends and then starts dancing as the credits roll. Afterwards she is taken out on a stretcher and given new plasma.
I made up the last part, but goodness she is a non-stop ball of energy. It’s never fair to judge a talk show by it’s first or second episode, so we’ll check back in a few months. If there are studio audience members and real guests by then, it will be a different show. For now, we’ll take a blast of Barrymore as a novel, mid-day wake up call — and hope this host learns to pace herself a little.