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‘Sundays with Alec Baldwin’ review: New talk show is all about the host, has potential

Alec Baldwin speaks at an event Jan. 31,

Alec Baldwin speaks at an event Jan. 31, 2018 in Santa Barbara, Calif. Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF / Matt Winkelmeyer

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Alec Baldwin’s new ABC talk show previewed Sunday after the Oscars, with Jerry Seinfeld and Kate McKinnon as his first guests. ABC describes this newcomer as “one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting people from American pop culture.” No official launch date has been set, nor time specified, but expect this to land late night on (where else?) Sundays.

MY SAY As expected -- if not quite as promised -- “Sundays” is about the host. The camera bends toward him, as a divining rod to water, or metal to magnet. The camera can’t help itself. Baldwin can’t help himself either. At the outset of the conversation with Kate McKinnon, he asks, “who’s the greatest male (acting) partner you’ve ever had,” full well realizing both who the greatest male acting partner she’s ever had is, as well as what the answer is. He asks Jerry Seinfeld what his problem with LA was, and Baldwin must inevitably offer his own opinion on the question that all New Yorkers must (inevitably) ask of one another: “It feels like a place where you get in touch with your inner serial killer.”

Naturally, he must offer his opinion about his “SNL” Trump impression -- “it’s like a whoopee cushion” -- and the “#MeToo/ Time’s Up movement. “I’m somewhat surprised (with) this ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead” attitude,” he says solemnly. Almost stunned, Seinfeld says, “What are you getting at?” Baldwin wisely course-corrects: “I’m surprised at the institutions -- why didn’t they manage this?”

As host, Baldwin says he aspires to Dick Cavett or Tom Snyder, and in fact, his launch channeled a little of both. He came off as effortlessly congenial, and -- with just the slightest extra effort -- as thoughtful. That’s the Cavett. Then, there was the talk show potentate, with hands folded and eyes fixed, and that inner natural born opinionator barely contained by own skin much less his suit. That’s the Snyder.

Nevertheless, the surprise with “Sundays” -- directed by David Letterman’s longtime director Jerry Foley -- is that this has promise. It’s not fully baked, not by a mile, because Baldwin has launched with friends, or at least show biz friends, who admire him as much as he admires them. The interviews tended to be more banter than informational, although the information that was here was at times revelatory. Seinfeld talked about his popularity in Israel (“I’m the Jew they don’t hate”) and Sea Cliff native McKinnon said her grandfather had been a Joey Buttafuoco customer -- which inspired a youthful sketch with friends, where she played Buttafuoco.

But friends and admirers they were, and the real test will come when someone not so smitten is sitting across from him. Baldwin is the sort of star -- either actor, talk show host, POTUS, whatever -- who elicits passion. Some people love him, others not so much. There’s no middle ground and never has been, and into this no man’s land he steps, along with future guests. Nobody’s neutral about him, and their neutrality will be tested as much as his. The show’s potential will rise or fall in those edgy encounters when they come, and they certainly should. That passion could ultimately be “Sunday’s” chief asset.

BOTTOM LINE “Sundays” has potential and so does the host.

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