Still, the showrunners did the one thing possible to entice me to review this new batch: They snagged some interesting guest stars. And you know what? A few actually charming moments emerge, despite the cringe-inducing artifice and sheer laziness of Carpool Karaoke’s premise and production.
Carpool Karaoke review
Season 5, episodes 7 to 13: For those of you who don’t know my feelings on James Corden and Carpool Karaoke (the show … where … celebs … sing songs … in a car) — and missed the mushroom cloud from the last time I reviewed this money-laundering scheme — I think it’s about the worst thing on TV.
I won’t rehash the whys and hows. They’re all a matter of public record. But it’s entirely possible someone listened (or I got lucky), because the second half of season five is not as categorically offensive as everything else I’ve seen in this format.
Part of this results from the show booking guests I can tolerate. Carpool Karaoke is still loaded down with shtick, most of it intolerable. But these seven new episodes don’t make me reach for the ipecac the way earlier ones did. In this batch, we get (in order of appearance) …
Sandra Oh and Duran Duran
Well, Simon Le Bon and Stephen Duffy, anyway. There’s a pretty hoary bit upfront where the boys pretend to be Sandra Oh superfans, but whatever, it doesn’t matter. The point of this is that Oh is the world’s biggest Duran Duran fan, and the actress spends the entire 20 minutes in pure, near-sexual ecstasy to be this close to her teen idols. She even accidentally talks in their accents up front because she’s so blown away by their presence.
Duran Duran, well, I mean you can’t argue with them. They’re pop royalty for a reason. No one did it better. Doesn’t matter that Le Bon likes “A Horse With No Name,” the worst song ever written. He sings “Girls on Film” and had perfect hair. He’s immortal forever, and it’s charming that he’s still starstruck by a card sent to him by Nina Simone. Case closed.
The cast of For All Mankind
Next up: the cast of For All Mankind, an Apple TV+ alternative history/sci-fi show that I like slightly better than Carpool Karaoke. We get Jodi Balfour, Krys Marshall and Coral Peña in one car, and Shantel VanSanten, Joel Kinnaman, Edi Gathegi and Cynthy Wu in the other car. It’s very funny that these actors are meant to have huge age differences on the show but are all clearly just 30-or-40-somethings who have the same cultural reference points.
Very little actual ground gets covered here. These people are “friends” but clearly don’t actually know anything about each other. Marshall has a webbed toe, and Balfour and Peña’s reactions are priceless. Kinneman is extremely charming — you get why he’s famous. So is Marshall (who does a bang-up Prince impression). In fact, it’s kind of a bummer that the For All Mankind writers made her so humorless. Indeed … why isn’t the show any fun? How is it shown up by this nonsense?
Nikki Glaser and Wilco
Standup comic Nikki Glaser is evidently a huge fan of the band Wilco, so they schlep out to Chicago for a little Carpool Karaoke action. It’s Jeff Tweedy, Glenn Kotche and John Stirratt, because I’m having a hard time picturing Nels Cline or Mikael Jorgensen putting up with this, and I think Glaser probably would have felt cheated by Pat Sansone. (I am kidding, of course. All love to Pat Sansone). It’s funny to think of the Carpool Karaoke audience knowing enough Wilco lyrics for this to be at all satisfying. But, hey, when have this show’s producers considered that in the past?
Glaser talks about being whacked out on Prozac when she listened to the band, and Tweedy’s own struggle with addiction makes him sympathetic to this. (I imagine this will sail over the heads of most people who weren’t paying attention to tabloids circa-2004.) Tweedy’s delivery on a lot of his songs is very low-key, so the pulse of the car doesn’t really get above resting, even if Glaser’s clearly happy to be there. They conjure Mavis Staples at one point, which is good. Can’t have too much Mavis. But they also re-enact the song-and-dance from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which … I mean … prison.
Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and Amber Ruffin
And then we get gutsy Hillary and Chelsea Clinton again, this time paired with comedian Amber Ruffin, sacrificing her integrity to chill with the ladies and sing Aretha Franklin. Hillary says she’s loved Carpool Karaoke for years with all the conviction of a campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. (She’s “so white [she] wanna talk to a manager,” as Method Man says of Bobby Caldwell in his episode.)
Hillary also forgets there’s a part in “Respect” that calls for a woman to pay off her husband to get him to leave. I bet she’s thought about that more than once. Agony, pain, hell on earth. Nothing these women do doesn’t rankle like the clap.
The Bacon Brothers
Up next is Kevin Bacon and his untalented brother Michael (but I kid Michael Bacon). They’ve been playing in The Bacon Brothers band for decades now. And though it’s kind of a joke to most folks, it’s harmless and cute. I love Kevin Bacon — how can you not? He’s one of those celebrities whose winking self-effacement is actually ingratiating instead of excruciating. Still, there’s no excuse to sing Hanson in 2022.
Kevin very adorably says he gets asked why the band hasn’t broken up like other brother bands. “Well, those bands were financially successful,” he says. The brothers play one of their own songs and I’d be shocked if a single viewer in America would be able to identify it. Plus, they play a game where they try to get people off the street to talk about Kevin Bacon, and then he pops up from under a sheet and reveals himself. Actually, that’s more sad than funny.
Method Man and Chris Redd
Then we get Method Man and Chris Redd, which I have to imagine is someone’s idea of clever. Method and Redd?!?! GET IT?!?! Method Man rules. I love Method Man. And it’s wild that he agreed to this — you can kind of feel him regretting it in real time, but he’s mostly a good sport. He sings a Dusty Springfield song and clearly loves her, and he does a great impression of London band Cutting Crew.
Chris Redd is funny, and still a little starstruck. He sings Nickleback, which absolutely throws Method Man. You can see him trying to leave his body without leaving the car seat. This guy was on The Wire. He’s in the most influential hip-hop group of all time. He’s apparently really good at lacrosse … he doesn’t need this. Method is “black excellence,” as the man himself says. Every third word is bleeped.
Ciara and Russell Wilson
Ciara and Russell Wilson close things out. Ciara Wilson‘s a survivor — much love to her. She’s been making hits since Jeff Tweedy’s rehab stories hit the tabloids. The only things I know about Russell Wilson are that he’s Mr. Ciara, and apparently he’s smooth as silk. But as long as he’s helping her around the house, he’s OK in my book.
They sing “Jump” together, which is quite the spectacle (still an all-timer). Apparently, their kid keeps asking them what all her songs mean; it’s very cute in a twisted way. Russell seems a little less than game at times — he’s an NFL quarterback, so there’s bound to be a little ego involved — but overall he does fine.
Watch Carpool Karaoke: The Series on Apple TV+
All in all, this batch of Carpool Karaoke episodes is fine. But then, nothing can be as bad as the first half of this season, which aired earlier this year (and which feels like a lifetime ago). It’s not great but I didn’t want to die, so that’s a definite improvement.
The second half of Carpool Karaoke: The Series season five just pulled up on Apple TV+. Watch them if you dare.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.