The world of fake television news got more crowded last week with the debut of "The Onion News Network" on IFC. Parodying the cable-news format, the show's anchors deliver absurd headlines like "Judge rules white girl will be tried as adult black male" with straight (if perky) faces as a continuous stream of one-liners ("Arianna Huffington sweeps annual Arianna Huffington awards") scrolls across the bottom of the screen. The Onion has skewered American culture in newspaper and online form for years, but can it find a foothold in a medium that's already dominated by fake-news purveyors Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert? (Watch an "Onion News Network" clip)
It lacks strong characters: The "Onion News Network" is "intermittently laugh-out-loud funny," says Jesse Hicks at Pop Matters. But it suffers in comparison to its fake news-competition, because "where 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' cohere around the strong personalities of their stars," The Onion's show chooses "fidelity to concepts over compelling characters." And while the graphics are precisely satirical, "the rapid-fire, information-dense production makes 'ONN' feel like a show without a center."
"'Onion News Network' series premiere"
No, it works — because of the anchors: The Onion News Network is a "big success out of the gate," says Linda Holmes at NPR, and "the biggest single reason is the performance of former actual cable news anchor Suzanne Sena as 'ONN' anchor Brooke Alvarez." Sena plays her character as a "brutal version of the modern television journalist," not "just a dumb, bland newsreader there to recite jokes, which would have been a very easy way to go." Thanks largely to her, this show is "the surprisingly rare cross-medium translation that actually adds something to the mix."
"'Onion News Network': A highly successful debut for the fakest of fake news"
It's limited by its targets: The show is "darker and more deadpan" than its Comedy Central counterparts, says Jamies Poniewozik at Time. It's an "immersive satire" that "skewers the medium's form above all." The problem with taking aim at the tics of cable-news anchors is that many of them — Glenn Beck and Piers Morgan, for example — "already use the rhythms and devices of comedy." Because of that redundancy, the show's humor will be "a challenge to sustain."
"The Onion's new fake news show"