Arts, Features

REVIEW: Silverman’s ‘I Love You, America’ addresses polarizing politics in late-night format

The second season of “I Love You, America” with Sarah Silverman premiered on Hulu Thursday. PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

“I Love You, America,” hosted by comedian Sarah Silverman, follows the standard structure of a 30-minute, late-night show — it starts with a cold open and then moves into a monologue, followed by two pre-recorded segments. However, the best parts of the show differ from the traditional, comedic format: they are serious, empathetic and not particularly funny.

In the first episode of the second season, Sarah Silverman begins her open by describing the “dumb news” that she’s reading on her phone, specifically United States Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings and how they will determine his future in the Supreme Court.

There are jokes she could crack about Kavanaugh’s past and his debt, but instead of focusing on laughs, she gets real.

“If [his appointment] goes through,” Silverman said, “It’s gonna affect every vulnerable person in America negatively until the day he dies.”

This moment serves as the kind of impassioned plea that has come to define late-night television. Notably, the entire open is shot with Silverman in a T-shirt that says “LOVE YOU” repeatedly in large, white text. Her plea feels genuine because it comes from a place of concern — for the audience and the country in general.

“I Love You, America” pointedly features a hallmark of late-night television: the monologue. It opens with Silverman saying, “This show is about trying to be open-minded.” To Silverman, this means listening to other people and acknowledging the intentions behind their actions.

She shows no empathy for those whom she describes as the liars, the “corrupt politicians and the billionaires.” Instead, Silverman feels for the lied-to, the “well-intentioned citizens who believe the liars and the lies that they tell.” The nuance in this perspective, in a deeply polarized era, is notable.

Silverman manages to find empathy for people on the other side of the aisle without presuming that everyone has good intentions. It comes across as a bit condescending because Silverman says it like she knows the ultimate truth, but it’s still a refreshing perspective.

Silverman then shifts to the first of two, pre-recorded segments. First, she visits the “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust,” a pro-life organization known for displaying graphic, controversial images in public.

In this segment, she interviews Jeff White, the director of the organization, three female members of the organization and Willie Parker, a pro-choice OB-GYN.

While Parker first seems somewhat dismissive of the pathos behind pro-life individuals, he ultimately comes across as trying to do the best by his patients. White, on the other hand, views the fetus as unable to defend itself and therefore inherently worthier of protection than the woman.

Silverman draws the pathos out of both of these positions while also making her own pro-choice position on abortion clear. Though she fails to change any minds, she at least gives the viewer a sense of understanding for both positions that can be hard to come by these days.

Her second pre-recorded segment is an interview with Malcolm Jenkins and Doug Baldwin, who play for the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks, respectively. Silverman interviews them about their decision to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality.

This interview further showcases Silverman’s mission to establish empathy for those who have been lied to. In this case, the liars are the politicians who deliberately misunderstand their protest as unpatriotic. Instead, Baldwin argues that their protest is fundamentally patriotic, likening it to a mother disciplining a son.

“It’s not that we don’t love this country,” Baldwin said. “It’s not that we’re not grateful and thankful for what this country stands for, but that doesn’t mean you don’t hold [the country] accountable.”

“I Love You, America” is predicated on the belief that in order to truly love something, you have to be able to hold it accountable.

Silverman created her show in order to facilitate an open, honest dialogue between fundamentally opposed sides that hardly even share the same facts. In our increasingly polarized climate, this goal generally feels overambitious, but Silverman puts it within reach.

She has empathy for the well-intentioned and goes above and beyond to make their humanity shine. All the while, she maintains her own sense of morality, balancing out her desire to treat everyone with empathy.

The show isn’t perfect –– it can feel a little condescending, and the jokes often feel tacked onto the more substantive work. But she’s doing her best to have an open mind, and as she said herself, that’s the point of the show.

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