Melissa McCarthy won the weekend with a surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live, distilling press secretary Sean Spicer to one of those cartoon bulldogs who start charging at prey before they’ve even realized why. Never speaking below a bellow, McCarthy’s Spicer announced that he “came out here to punch [the press] in the face” and spewed lies about his boss’s Muslim ban and popularity. The skit was a spot-on parody of Spicer’s doublespeak, but, more cathartically, it confirmed that Trump and his administration have been hurling sound and fury at the country, as if being louder and angrier will suddenly make the majority of Americans who disapprove of the president subscribe to the White House’s alternate reality, where unemployment stands at 42 percent and the Bowling Green Massacre is realer than Lindsay Lohan’s conversion to Islam.
McCarthy’s podium-shoving turn as Spicer wasn’t just astute satire, but a landmark in Yell TV: a mode of television (mostly comedy) that goes back decades but has found a new post-inauguration importance. Until Japanese Venting Rooms come to the U.S., Yell TV is one of our best ways of coping with the frustration and outrage that are the natural reactions to the current honey-badger-hostile political climate. Mileages vary, but it’s been therapeutic to watch others act as batshit as I feel, especially when things have gotten so frequently alarming that every hour seems like a new occasion to wonder if I’m finally having that panic attack that I’m vaguely amazed hasn’t happened yet.
And yet, not all screams are made equal; there’s a canyon between John Oliver’s freakouts and Charlie Day’s. So it’s worth investigating what exactly makes for the ideal Yell TV in 2017, in the same way that Key & Peele’s Luther, a.k.a. Obama’s Anger Translator, exemplified smart shrieking during the Hope and Change era. Here’s our five-series-long search for the best possible formulation of thoughtful howling for a scared and incensed nation.
The most obvious response to being yelled at is to yell back. The standard-bearer for hyper-articulate banshee-ism is Samantha Bee, who said “fuck it” to the fear of looking like a bitch/harpy/shrew in order to roar her way to the top of the political-comedy pack. After the Orlando shooting, for example, she hosted her show in mournful black and half-begged with barely restrained wrath, "Is it OK if, instead of making jokes, I just scream for seven minutes until we go to commercial?" Bee consistently gives voice to the disgust we’re made to feel by the GOP’s unscrupulousness and oligarchic policies, but sometimes wading into the minutiae of how decades of progress are being undone can get, well, depressing. (Cable news need not apply to this survey, since so much of it just sounds like this.)
Volume: 6/10; I’m still waiting for her to go full-on scream queen
Overall Yell Value: 8/10
Reality TV wouldn’t be what it is without drunken screeching, but there’s one raucous British import that’s working hard to elevate the genre. OK, so the U.K. Parliament isn’t actually a reality TV show, but you wouldn’t know it from the way MPs regularly roast each other like they’re auditioning for Britain’s Next Top Insult Comic. While Bernie Sanders drags Congress back to the 20th century with his blown-up printouts of POTUS’s tweets, the Houses of Lords and Commons roil themselves in a very prim sort of rap battle, complete with WWE-style cheers and jeers. “You’re a miserable pipsqueak and a mad dog,” cries a politico, looking like he’s about to get into a pub brawl. Then there’s Nigel Farage’s snootier smack talk: “You have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” (An American reboot definitely wouldn't be the same.)
Coherence: 10/10; it's 35 degrees on the streets of London, but the Parliament is ON FIRE from all those burns
Overall Yell Value: 6/10
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
On the nonpolitical side of things, this long-running sitcom about a quintet of grimy, nihilistic lowlifes knows what it sounds like, once describing itself as “just a bunch of people yelling over each other.” The gang’s testy shouting and pathological selfishness corroborate the dark post-election impulse to believe the worst about humanity, since the fivesome are so prone to immediately flying off the handle and flippantly designating enemies that it’s a bit implausible that none of the main characters has stabbed another yet. The clip above is a typical example of how a debate about, say, the thickness of the limes in the bar can lead to a Pablo Escobar–like escalation, as if this were a Reddit thread among trolls and not a petty disagreement between lifelong pals. On the other hand, all the ranting and raving on Sunny is a strangely comforting reminder that none of our current shivs-out polarization actually accomplishes anything.
Entertainment: 8/10; everyone is wrong, people are awful; come on, asteroids, do your thing
Overall Yell Value: 7/10
Real life keeps catching up to Archer, which had to ditch its fatefully named spy agency after the real-life ISIS began terrorizing the world. Luckily, the wittily dirty cartoon mostly parted ways with the KGB — which seems to be resurging IRL — through its recent adventures in the Miami drug trade, freelancing for the CIA, and gumshoeing in Hollywood. Creator Adam Reed’s continuing run from reality and occasionally heavy serialization do mean, though, that the show is often as confusing as it is booming, which actually reflects our addled, bleating times pretty well. Like Sunny, Archer derives much of its humor from a play with decibels — a series signature that Reed won’t be able to escape.
Volume: 11/10; Archer knows tinnitus is no joke
Overall Yell Value: 8.5/10
Billy on the Street
Hollywood owes a debt of gratitude to Billy Eichner, a hollering tornado who rips through the sidewalks of Manhattan to ambush strangers with questions about pop culture. Eichner’s self-satirical persona is perfection, boasting an adulatory obsession with stars while relentlessly pointing out how so many people on the street couldn’t care less about celebrities, even when one’s staring at them in the face. The trivia game show’s occasional and oblique political interjections, as in the “Immigrant or Real American?” game above, make for a happy medium between escapism and engagement. For finally cracking the code to Yell TV, the television academy should give him an Emmy. Or a papier-mâché diorama of Chrissy Teigen tweeting at her husband John Legend that he’s just OK at singing the national anthem. Eichner would love either.
Volume: 10/10; unless you drag Meryl, and then it’s time to schedule that emergency ear-drum surgery
Overall Yell Value: 10/10