Grace Helbig strives for more than brief chuckles in new television series

Grace Helbig brings YouTube spunk to primetime TV with her new talk show. Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

YouTube personality Grace Helbig premiered her late-night television talk show “The Grace Helbig Show” on E! on April 3. While off to a somewhat awkward start, the show seems to be promising as Helbig’s funny, charismatic hosting begins to hit its stride.

Helbig is perhaps best known for her various YouTube shows, which have been growing in popularity since her debut in 2007. Her channel, “itsGrace,” has over two million subscribers, and she is part of a popular network of YouTube celebrities that includes the vlogbrothers, Tyler Oakley and Lily Singh.

The format of the show is simple and similar to some of her previous YouTube ventures; Helbig interviews and talks to various guests. The pilot episode featured an interview with comedian Aisha Tyler, swapping YouTube videos with Mamrie Hart (“You Deserve a Drink”), and creating a new theme song with DJ/Musician friend Flula Borg. It served as less of an introduction than a jump right into the show, which was a wise move, as many of Helbig’s audience members are already fans or, at the very least, familiar with her work.

While the pilot featured some chuckle-worthy moments, the transition for Helbig from online video to television was a bit stilted; while the episode featured much of the same material that made Helbig famous in the first place, one got the sense that Helbig was reading off cue cards, uncomfortable in her new environment. She was best in the segment with Hart, in which the two played a drinking game called “Deal,” where players swap YouTube videos and the first person to laugh must drink. While a bit awkward, Helbig remained funny and self-aware, commenting on the laugh reel and laughing at the absurdities that come with hosting a television show.

Another encouragingly familiar move was Helbig’s interaction with her audience, common on YouTube but less so on television. Helbig asks her audience to respond online to questions she poses during the show. She then addresses her audience’s responses in the next episode. Some of these engagements with the audience are more substantial than others — a top moment is Helbig’s request to ask the audience for a word she can secretly slip into conversation with her guest (example: “Shark”).

Things improved steadily, however, from the second episode — with guests Nick Kroll and Tyler Oakley — onward. Grace interviewed Kroll about his upcoming film “Adult Beginners” (set to premiere today). In the next segment, Oakley joins the two and teaches Helbig and Kroll some internet slang. Following the pattern established in the previous segment, Helbig and Oakley play a game called “Hot Mess, God Bless.” It is here that the show begins to hit its stride, and audiences start to see its true strengths; “The Grace Helbig Show” manages to be funny without any sort of mean edge, and its warm-hearted silliness helps it thrive.

The third episode involves a politics and joke-infused car ride to the airport with author John Green — of “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014) fame — in which Green attempts to explain some aspect of the electoral process. Helbig and Green fall into an easy, familiar rapport reminiscent of their previous YouTube appearances on each other’s channels. Helbig continues playing (presumably invented) games with her guests, and even plays tennis with Jim Parsons. It is in the second and third episodes where audiences start seeing Helbig truly in her element — her comedy works better with these guests, and the generally silly atmosphere begins to work very well. Helbig’s dedicated fan base is augmented by her guests’ own fan bases. In order to maintain and increase its popularity, “The Grace Helbig Show” needs to maintain the momentum and tone of the host’s YouTube presence, while making use of the numerous new tools available through the change in medium, like television’s higher budget and wider audience. Whether it can achieve this remains to be seen, but viewers and fans alike have every reason to be optimistic.


Summary

In order to maintain and increase its popularity, the Grace Helbig Show needs to maintain the momentum and tone of her YouTube presence while making use of the numerous new tools available through the change in medium-- like the higher budget and wider reaching audience. Whether it can achieve this remains to be seen, but viewers and fans alike have every reason to be optimistic.

4 stars
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