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'Totally Biased' review: W. Kamau Bell does late night

Janine Brito, W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu

Janine Brito, W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu in “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.” Credit: FX

THE SHOW "Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell"

WHEN | WHERE Tomorrow at 11 p.m. on FX

WHAT IT'S ABOUT W. Kamau Bell (pronounced Ka-MOW) is a San Francisco-based standup, and co-host (with Living Colour's Vernon Reid) of a podcast, "The Field Negro Guide to Arts and Culture." This weekly show -- executive- produced by Chris Rock -- will have a monologue, followed by a remote or in-studio guest. (The weekly program will be taped in New York.) Of Rock's role, Bell says, "He's a great adviser -- I call him 'Foul Mouth Yoda' -- and he helps me sort of steer clear of the potholes that maybe they hit on 'Chris Rock Show' or he hit in his career."

MY SAY The most obvious and immediate feature of FX's new late-night host is this: He's black. And until BET's "Don't Sleep With T.J. Holmes," and Arsenio Hall's new show arrive later this year and next, respectively, Bell is TV's only black late-night host.

Therein lies opportunity. Therein also lies a challenge. How's a black late-night host with a left-of-center sensibility supposed to be all that different from someone like Jon Stewart? They dip from the same bottomless well of material -- political gaffes, the economy, the Kardashians -- and, while a "Totally Biased" test-run screener indicated that race (and racism) are a part of Bell's act, they're not the whole act.

Material pops up on a video screen behind him that turns into a comic PowerPoint presentation, ripping the usual targets, like Donald Trump, Pat Buchanan, Mitt Romney and the early GOP field. But unlike Bell's foul-mouthed Yoda, there's not a whole lot of bite to the delivery. It's genial and unhurried. "Am I totally biased?" he cheerfully asks a small studio audience. "Yes, I am!" Bell seems totally nice, too.

BOTTOM LINE Will a cheerfully biased newcomer with a few amusing, well-crafted one-liners be enough to get FX on the boards in late night? To paraphrase Yoda, difficult to say -- always in motion is the future -- but Rock may want to light a fire under this act sooner than later.


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