I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to another fake news show, but “The Onion News Network” is actually really funny. This is more of a satire about the social themes portrayed in news. Obviously, if I already have the screener, it’s not about being timely, although figures as obscure as Sarkozy and as mainstream as Kim Jong-Il do pop up.
The format is modeled after the 24 hour news networks even more than “The Daily Show.” Brooke Alvarez (Suzanne Sena) hosts “Factzone,” a “Situation Room” type hub that detours into talking heads, pundits and other facets of cable news. The Onion folks really know how to make satire work and they use all the tools of the television media to do their bidding.
In one story, Kim Jong-Il negotiates to take over the role of Batman in the next movie. They have footage of a news conference with Kim’s representative showing off a new Batdance. The “First Responders” are a panel of three talking heads in studio who debate all the sides of such a ridiculous issue, including Christian Bale’s qualifications to run North Korea.
One segment suggests that Sarah Palin would win a majority of 2012 election polls because people would vote out of a morbid curiosity to see what she’d do. Facts and figures pop up as Brooke interviews the experts, and you start to notice all the extra jokes printed in quickly displayed graphics. Freeze frame those DVRs to get all the humor.
Whether it’s profound social commentary (a later episode profiles the country’s first openly drunk politician) or just absurdity, it’s funny. A teenage murder suspect is tried not as an adult, but as a black man. It’s that Onion way of changing just one element that points out the flaw in the whole system.
A weather report on a national snow storm gives a complete fake analysis on all the trouble idiots get into in bad weather. A thorough perspective on the implications of pornography in a blizzard is much appreciated. They use all this intellect and insight to throw in some base humor. Another dirty joke commemorates the invention of the hand job as a historical event.
The fake correspondents deliver rapid fire jokes just like the 24 hour news cycle tries to pack in legitimate info. Pay attention for some good irony, like striking interns demanding more experience. Sena gives a good deadpan with the glamorous veneer of an on air spokesperson. The show even goes in depth about the superficiality of on air talent, after their Afghanistan correspondent is held hostage.
Like a real news show, they return to stories as they develop. This lets the weirder ones get meta. A celebrity stalker from the future is funny. Hiring a bodyguard from the future who quotes Tom Cruise catch phrases is brilliant.
Anything that doesn’t fit in the “Factzone” format seems to find its way into fake promos for other “ONN” shows. “Concurrence Roundtable” really finds a lot of different ways to make fun of crossfire shows by having the correspondents agree. I don’t think this will replace “The Colbert Report,” but it shows The Onion can expand into other media.
“Onion News Network” premieres Friday, January 21st at 10PM EST on IFC.