Talk shows have never been in sorrier shape: Stars now tell the same anecdotes to Conan O’Brien that they do to Katie Couric, and memorable unscripted moments—so common in Johnny Carson’s heyday—occur about as often as George W. Bush admits fault. Henry Rollins might not be the most relaxed host in the world, but that’s okay—his new IFC program still gives the flailing format a much-needed kick in the pants. In the first edition of The Henry Rollins Show, most of the questions the former Black Flag frontman throws at filmmaker Oliver Stone feel rehearsed—but in a throwback to the good old days, Stone is given the chance to provide thoughtful, extemporaneous answers that result in a real conversation. Save for the odd fluke (such as Howard Stern’s recent anti-CBS jeremiad on David Letterman’s show), there hasn’t been a celebrity confab this invigorating since Later with Bob Costas a decade ago.
It comes as no surprise that Rollins and Stone quickly denounce Bush as a dictator, but think about it—when was the last time you saw anyone do that on the tube without a conservative pundit on hand to provide “balance”? Right-wingers love to scream about bias, though as journalist Eric Alterman proved in his book What Liberal Media?, undiluted left-wing thought has been all but banished from mainstream outlets. And while Rollins’s political candor is refreshing, he’s hardly in the propaganda business—future editions will feature Ozzy Osbourne and Werner Herzog. If Rollins and his producer Heidi May can just loosen up a bit (she introduces the musical guests; Sleater-Kinney contributes a scorching performance in the premiere), it will be even easier to forgive the jarring camera angles that are the only real annoyance.—Andrew Johnston