The energy that Hasan Minhaj’s news comedy show Patriot Act rides on was missing in its first quarantine edition episode that aired Sunday on Netflix.
Hasan Minhaj usually faces no problem in holding one’s attention. His finicky, frenetically moving hands, the intensity with which he talks about the topic at hand, along with the occasional no holds-barred-jibe makes Minhaj a delight to watch.
But was his screen presence enough to make up for the lost grandeur of the Patriot Act’s usual live-audience and glitzy set as he shot the latest episode from home during the Covid crisis? The answer is an unfortunate, but loud no.
Without multiple screen changes, bright studio lights, and a laughing audience, most of Minhaj’s jokes fell flat. No matter how hard his team tried — although pulling off a show in the midst of the pandemic is undoubtedly commendable — they failed to retain the charm of earlier episodes of the show.
Sorely lacking energy
Watching the Patriot Act is usually a refreshing experience. One because Hasan Minhaj isn’t just another old dude discussing depressing and drab happenings from around the world. He conjures up a sense of familiarity — Minhaj talks like us, emotes like us, and doesn’t blink twice before giving the biggest politicians a dose of millennial sass (looking at you Mohammed Bin Salman). Whatever he talks about, no matter how grave the subject matter, he doesn’t leave you with a sad feeling.
On Minhaj’s show, the big screen behind him, along with multiple other screens, move in a choreographed fashion that match the rhythm of every word Minhaj says, keeping the audience engaged and hooked.
In the quarantine edition, the producers did a decent job at replicating this considering that it was shot remotely. But in the absence of elaborate studio features like the glass floor that transformed into a screen, something was clearly lacking.
This makes one think, what do we actually tune into a show like this for? The snarky jokes and bubbling studio energy that palpitates through our screens, or entertainment repackaged as deep news analysis?
Minhaj, with his never-ending pop culture references, takes some serious and pertinent issues and serves them to us as binge-worthy content akin to slapstick infotainment as my colleague Pia Krishnankutty called it.
Always in a hurry
It’s not easy to cram so much research in a 20-25 minute episode, but Patriot Act doesn’t exactly pull it off. Minhaj rushes through segments without taking a breather and moves on to his next argument before his arms are done gesticulating the point he was trying to make earlier. This isn’t exactly a model that allows a viewer a lot of time to retain information.
One episode that I particularly had trouble keeping pace with was, ironically, about Indian elections — a topic I knew most about compared to others featured before. The speed at which Minhaj tried to delve into the vastness of the Indian elections system, while also contextualising things for an American audience, ended up with him neither here, nor there.
In the first episode of Patriot Act’s quarantine edition, however, Minhaj was calmer, slower and far more comprehensible than usual. His message was far louder and clearer in a quiet and sober set up.
Hopefully, Patriot Act will come back stronger, better and a bit slower once things go back to ‘normal’.