Even when I’m not familiar with a guest on Graham Norton's couch, the impish talk-show host keeps me happily entertained.
"The Graham Norton Show" (9 p.m. Saturdays, BBC America; **** out of four stars) returns with all-new episodes at June 18 with Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush and comedian Jason Byrne. It's now part of BBC America’s new, two-hour comedy block called Ministry of Laughs and hosted by "The Nerdist" blogger Chris Hardwick. The block continures with the final season of "The Inbetweeners" at 10 p.m. and the new comedy, "Come Fly with Me," at 10:30 p.m.
Norton plays the warm-up act in this schedule, but he's the best part of it as far as I’m concerned. This is, by far, my favorite talk show on TV. The Irish comci opens each show in the audience where he gets someone to do some outrageous thing. That’s followed by a short, hilarious monologue that involves photos, video clips and at least one joke about Camilla Parker Bowles.
His biggest tweak to the format, however, is when he brings out all his guests at once, putting everyone on equal footing. Norton expertly moves from one guest to another, encouraging them to chat amonst themselves as well. (But not too much; he does feign offense if he’s left out of the conversation too long.)
And somehow, Norton almost always manages to get them to tell their most embarrassing stories. You also can expect musical performances, occassional skits, live segments shot outside the studio and audience participation segments.
One of the best parts of the show is when Norton invites audience members to sit in the infamous red chair, where they are asked to regale Norton and his guests with a story. If any one of the panelists gets bored or grossed out, they push a red eject button and the chair falls backward, dumping the speaker out.
The only downside to the telecast is that it seems like BBC America trims the show to get in all the commercials. I want more Graham!
June 25: Cameron Diaz, Kathy Griffin, Bear Grylls and Friendly Fires
July 2: Kim Cattrall, Jessie Wallace and The Saturdays