Why do parodies of late-night talk shows work? Because the format is so rigid — monologue, bit, guest, bit, guest, musical guest — that anything that subverts it is usually pretty funny. But Earth To Ned doesn’t really mess with the format; it makes the host an alien who would rather host a show than invade the Earth. Read more on how that is supposed to work.
Opening Shot: Ned (Paul Rugg) is at his desk when he sees Cornelius (Michael Oosterom). “Cornelius! That’s not what a late-night talk show sidekick wears! You look like you’re about to blow up a planet!”
The Gist: Ned is in command of an alien ship that was poised to invade Earth, but after watching the planet’s pop culture, he fell in love with it. So, instead of invading, he buried the ship far underground and decided to start a late-night talk show, with Cornelius as his sidekick.
He’s assisted by the ship’s AI presence, BETI (Coleen Smith), and the tiny CLODs (Cloned Living Organisms of Destruction), which basically, well, destroy everything they touch. He wants this to be like a real late-night talk show, so when he beams down his first guest, Andy Richter, he presses Conan O’Brien’s longtime sidekick for pointers.
One thing Andy tells Cornelius is to swing at pitches he can hit; i.e. don’t strain to chip in when you don’t have a killer line. He also knows that the host get antsy if the guest talks to the sidekick too much. Oh, and a good guest is funny and thinks on his or her feet.
Between guests, Cornelius beams up to earth to talk to some late-night writers (including Late Night‘s Aparna Nancherla and a writer from the now-defunct Lights Out With David Spade). He’s told to have a lot of good brains in the writers’ room and to laugh at all the host’s lame jokes. So we see some brains in a jar under a sign that says “Writer’s Room.”
The next guest is Gillian Jacobs, and for some reason, Ned is fixated on how much she makes. Every time he asks, she cheerfully says things like “none of your business!” or “You probably make more.” She tells Ned to ask nice questions, and he seems to listen, but not really. Ned claims Gillian can do impressions, so she’s challenged to do impressions of random villain aliens she’s never seen before. She does OK, but Ned seems better. At least she’s a good sport.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast, except with puppets. Or The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo with aliens.
Our Take: Brian Henson and Vincent Raisa — a Jim Henson Company veteran — are the executive producers of Earth To Ned, and you can see the Henson aesthetic at work on this very funny show. Expert puppeteering is the key to the show, of course; it takes three people in addition Rugg to move the massive Ned around, and two people in addition to Oosterom to operate the smaller Cornelius, and it all looks like the two are living actors. But the other key to the Henson aesthetic is improvisation, and this is where Earth To Ned excels.
Listen, we won’t know how much of the dialogue on a show like this is scripted and just naturally delivered and how much is improvised, but the talk show segments are most definitely improvised. In order to make it look like a real talk show, Richter and Jacobs banter with Ned and Cornelius just as much as they would with Conan, Fallon, Kimmel, Meyers, Colbert, Corden or Singh. There’s a framework there, of course, but you can tell Jacobs is thrown a bit when Ned keeps asking her how much money she makes.
It’s a tight 22-to-24-minute format, and that helps. No musical guest — “The worst part of a late-night show!” declares Ned — but a monologue, a Cornelius segment on Earth and two guests. And at the end, he gives a report to the Admiral, aka his father, who still thinks Ned is about to invade earth. We’re looking forward to seeing the other nine episodes, with guests like Rachel Bloom, Taye Diggs, Lil Rel Howrey, NeNe Leakes, Bindi and Robert Irwin, Kristen Schaal, Paul Scheer and more.
What Age Group Is This For?: The show is TV-PG for some reason, but we think kids from 5 and up will like it.
Parting Shot: While doing his daily log for his father, a log he’ll never watch, Ned talks about why he loves Earth’s pop culture. Oh, and he drinks his favorite Earth beverage: Mayonnaise.
Sleeper Star: The set design on the show is great, Ned, Cornelius and the CLOGs are some of the most complex puppets the Henson Company have produced for a comedic series, and the writing is top notch. So everyone involved in this show is a star.
Most Pilot-y Line: None.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Earth To Ned is weird, funny and actually heartwarming, a formula that’s right in the Henson wheelhouse.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company’s Co.Create and elsewhere.
Stream Earth To Ned On Disney+
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Why an ‘active’ approach to risk modelling is key to navigating markets today
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