It shouldn't surprise anyone that the premiere of Trevor Noah's Daily Show was basically just Jon Stewart's Daily Show with a new guy in the chair. On the strength of Stewart's incredibly successful 16-year tenure, The Daily Show has become an established and iconic franchise, and Comedy Central's first priority is making sure the franchise doesn't fail now that Stewart is gone.
So yes: Monday night's premiere looked very familiar. "Welcome to The Daily Show! Welcome to The Daily Show!" yelled Noah over the strains of the familiar guitar-driven theme song. The format — monologue, guest interview, Moment of Zen — was essentially identical. Many of Stewart's writers stayed on for Noah, and it's easy to imagine Stewart delivering many of the exact same jokes that Noah did on Monday. Even the commercials for Noah's Daily Show attempted to reassure viewers that nothing was going to change: "Same chair, different ass," insisted the relentless blitz of ads.
So is Trevor Noah's Daily Show just a younger, bouncier doppelgänger of Jon Stewart's Daily Show, as many, many critics have opined? If you're judging from the premiere, the answer is an obvious yes. But the truth is more complicated.
That's because we haven't really seen Trevor Noah's Daily Show yet; we've seen the vestigial tail that Jon Stewart's Daily Show left behind, with the vaguest hints of what the new show might eventually become.
This rush to judgment is nothing new. We saw a version of it earlier this month, when Stephen Colbert took over The Late Show. His first episode, which aired on September 8, was more than a little shaky. His first guest, George Clooney, didn't seem all that interested in being there, and Colbert didn't seem all that interested in chatting with him. Critics who had attended the taping earlier that day noted that long stretches of the first episode — including much of Colbert's interview with Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush — had been left on the cutting-room floor because the taping went way, way too long. Colbert later admitted that the episode was so fraught with production problems that it almost didn't air at all; in the minutes before the premiere was set to air, the computers used in the editing room malfunctioned, resulting in a desperate last-minute scramble that The Late Show's technical team just managed to pull off.
And after that massively troubled start, what happened? On September 10 — just two days later — Colbert delivered one of the most remarkable late-night moments in recent memory when he gently but insistently questioned Vice President Joe Biden about the death of his son Beau. Critics who wanted to evaluate Colbert's Late Show would have been better served if they had waited to weigh in until the third episode, which demonstrated the quality that has already come to separate Colbert from his late-night contemporaries: probing, substantive interviews with major figures in politics and business.
All premieres, by definition, are outliers. They have the unwieldy responsibility of introducing viewers to a new world or a new story or a new format or a new cast (and usually some combination of all of those things). But in all the genres of television, premiere episodes are most useless for judging a late-night show, which hinges on literally all the things a premiere can't demonstrate: comfort, consistency, longevity, and reliability.
So whether you loved or hated Trevor Noah's Daily Show premiere, remember this: We don't really know what Trevor Noah's Daily Show is yet.