E PLURIBUS UNUM
Hating On Megyn Kelly Is the One Thing Uniting America
In a divided world, at least we can all agree that Megyn Kelly doesn’t get to rebrand herself so easily.
Turns out, there wasn’t much of a demand for Megyn Kelly pretending for an hour each day that hard-ass Fox News “Santa Was White” Megyn Kelly has been replaced by an alternate universe lobotomized morning-show mom version of Megyn Kelly.
The viral critical pan has long been an art form for ugly joy. Movies are particular lightning rods for them; Roger Ebert’s review of North never gets old, even after dozens of re-readings. New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott and Times food critic Pete Wells are the contemporary standard-bearers for virtuoso haterism.
When enough people concurrently join in on a bad review, the viral negativity grows in mass until it functions as its own entity, with its own gravitational field. Eventually the subject is so consumed by its viral negativity that it’d be nearly impossible to approach without prejudice.
Nobody liked Megyn Kelly Today. Kelly’s celebrity interview subjects didn’t like it: Debra Messing said she didn’t realize she’d been booked on Kelly’s hour, and that she regretted the appearance. Jane Fonda looked pretty annoyed when Kelly asked her about her plastic surgery. The guest list got less celebrity-heavy as the week wore on. At one point, a cameraman wandered into a shot and swore live on air.
Audiences didn’t particularly like it: Ratings for the show slumped steadily over the course of the week. Even an ad read by the hosts on a widely-listened-to political podcast devolved into a Kelly roast. The ad was for a service that sends people wine that matches their palate.
TV critics didn’t like it. If your media outlet didn’t call Megyn Kelly’s morning show a “trainwreck” or “embarrassment” or “disaster,” then does it even exist? Mother Jones called it “cringeworthy.” Jezebel’s Bobby Finger spent last week recapping every episode in the form of flighty bullet-pointed lists. EW noted that there were many “uncomfortable” moments. At CNN.com, Mel Robbins wrote that Kelly’s interview with Fonda “show[ed] the world how women can be so passive-aggressive with one another.” The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio called it “awkward.” NPR’s David Folkenflik delivered a more generous assessment, noting Kelly’s history as a Fox host makes it tough for critics to accept her new role, that it’s possible for her to become a morning show host. My Daily Beast colleague Kevin Fallon called it a “disaster” that made great TV.
Folkenflik and Fallon’s assessments get to the heart of why Kelly’s show is in a dangerous position right now. Watching her flail is, to people who have a specific preexisting opinion of Megyn Kelly, a hell of a lot of fun. Critical treatment of Megyn Kelly Today has more to do with the context of Kelly’s show than it does with the show itself.
Megyn Kelly started her first episode by saying she’s done with politics. But Megyn Kelly can be no more “done with politics” than a pilot who parachutes out of an airplane mid-flight can be “done with flying.” To a large portion of the population it’s still a little bit her fault that everything has gone down in flames. You don’t get to fart in the elevator and then walk off without any dirty looks. Kelly’s pivot to soft focus couch mom reads like a massive cop-out.
Not all of the ire directed at Kelly is fair, but that’s the price of being the marquee face on a TV network responsible for helping to usher in a particularly fraught era in American history. Until audiences forget how angry and worried they are, they don’t want to visit Megyn Kelly in pillowland.
And so, as Megyn Kelly Today enters its second week, it’s teetering on the brink of becoming the Guy Fieri or Smash Mouth or “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas or Sex and the City 2 of morning shows. We’ll have to wait and see if her insistent blandness can outlast public interest in ridiculing it.