It’s only his second Netflix special, but David Letterman’s new edition of (deep breath now) “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman” already seems to be straining for effect. The guest this time is George Clooney. It starts with the two of them standing outside an In-N-Out Burger joint in Los Angeles, munching burgers and fries — you know, just a couple of regular guys, you’re supposed to think. That is, until an In-N-Out employee comes out to give them chocolate milkshakes and they look at him as if this worker was a Martian. The most these two wealthy showbiz fellows can summon in his presence is the idea that maybe one of them should have given the guy a tip. That’s how celebrities look at you or me: Maybe we should give this person a few bucks.
Cut to the interview proper. Clooney comes out onstage, he and Letterman sit down in chairs, Clooney does the obligatory joke about Letterman’s beard, referring to “this Soggy Bottom Boys thing you’ve got going,” and they ramble on the subject of Clooney’s childhood, with a fair amount of Letterman’s childhood thrown into the bargain. It’s nothing you haven’t heard if you’ve ever seen Clooney profiled, or read a Letterman interview, but here’s the thing: To each other, this is all new material, because Clooney and Letterman live inside their separate fame bubbles, so Letterman’s never heard the Clooney stories about all the bad TV acting gigs he had before “ER” made him a star, and Clooney hasn’t heard Letterman talk about how his mom was emotionally withholding. Basically, watching all this on Netflix, you’re waiting for them to get these niceties out of the way to dig down a bit deeper.
Unfortunately, the deeper stuff is also the most tedious stuff. Once the conversation has taken us up to Clooney’s marriage to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the show cuts to a filmed segment of a visit to Clooney’s boyhood home in Lexington, Ky. There, his dad, former broadcaster Nick Clooney, introduces Letterman to Hazim Avdal, whose chyron reads, “Iraqi refugee sponsored by the Clooneys.” Yes, the elder Clooneys have taken in a nice young man at the bidding of George and Amal, who works with people whose families have been affected by genocidal war. It’s a pleasant enough interlude — until they’re all walking down a leafy Kentucky street chatting and Letterman mock-yells at a guy riding on lawn mower. Except it’s not really a mock yell; he really does want the guy to shut off his motor so they can keep filming. Again: rich and powerful person meets ordinary citizen as alien presence.
The hour is genial enough, with Clooney professing extravagant love for Amal: “I had met someone for whom I would absolutely trade my life for … her life meant more to me than my life, and I’d never had that experience before.” George talks about the twins he and Amal have, and Letterman chimes in with more tales of parenthood. Clooney starts asking Letterman questions about his childhood, and when he says, “People don’t know much about you and people are interested in how you became David Letterman,” we’re back to that “Celebrities, they’re not like us” stuff again, because we have to sit through stuff we already know about Letterman’s Midwestern childhood and his early days as a weatherman and comedian.
As I say: affable enough. But if you find yourself getting bored, I’ll give you a Netflix tip: Give “Babylon Berlin” a shot. It’s a German crime series — I’m only one episode in, but it seems interesting.
“My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman” is streaming now on Netflix.
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