The Rosie Show Series Premiere: A Timid Start for Oprah's Newest Headliner

It’s tough to judge a talk show by its maiden voyage alone, but the series premiere of OWN’s The Rosie Show revealed a program in which the whole seemed to run three times as long as the sum of its flawed parts.

Things got off to an inauspicious start with host Rosie O’Donnell performing a pedestrian standup routine (on a poorly lit stage) that found the outspoken comic feigning shock about her bosses (including network honcho Oprah Winfrey) allowing her to broadcast live (“shut the front door!” she shouted), complaining that the early call time for a GMA interview had her thinking the show should be renamed “Grouchy Morning America,” and recounting that when her two youngest children heard about her new show concept, they simultaneously asked, “You think people are gonna watch that?”

A followup segment in which audience members got to ask questions of our hostess was decidedly more promising. When one man wondered, aside from work, what made O’Donnell proudest, she predictably answered her children, but then shared she was also pleased to have rejected her stylists’ demands to wear Spanx on air. Who knew the slimming undergarment contained a “pull-apart pee area” that allows the wearer to perform a “squat, pull, and release” maneuver? That’s the kind of unfiltered, and at time uncomfortable, edge that makes O’Donnell an interesting TV persona. After only two questions, though, O’Donnell fielded a query from celebrity money expert Suze Orman (pretending not to be famous) that led to what was only a mildly amusing song-and-dance interlude, “We’re From Chicago Live,” set to the tune of “The Night Chicago Died” and featuring shirtless Broadway hunks.

If O’Donnell really wants her show to succeed, though, she’ll need to become a far more intuitive interviewer. She actively encouraged her first guest, Russell Brand, to play up an exhausting shtick about having been named “three-time shagger of the year.” But when the conversation turned to the British comic’s successful battle with addiction, O’Donnell refused to push her guest beyond his slightly arch advice about having to discover that his problems were “spiritual” and that a setback should be viewed as nothing more than “a transitory experience that will eventually become joy.” Did Brand turn to religion to overcome his woes? How does all that recoveryspeak mumbo jumbo apply to his real-life navigation of the Hollywood scene? It was frustrating as a viewer not to get that followup. Likewise, Brand should have been confronted with whether he’d prefer to go back to anonymous and struggling rather than grapple with the kind of fame that he referred to as “a glistening golden prison of nothingness.”

Things ended on a goofy note, with two audience members squaring off in a trivia segment called “The Ro Game,” and our hostess hilariously cheating to help a law-firm receptionist score a few points against a doctor who needed to “get some humility.” Oh, and Oprah made a five-second appearance shouting the word “confetti!” Ten seconds later, the papery goodness showered the crowd, and some production assistant probably wondered if he or she was about to get sacked.

But back to the bottom line: While O’Donnell made her mark as daytime’s Queen of Nice, we know from her stint on The View and subsequent public appearances that there’s more to this woman than crafts, kids, and observational humor. Unless she’s willing to tap into the harder edge of her public persona — at least just a little — then The Rosie Show is doomed to feel like a bit of a ruse, a tame knock-knock joke from a comic with enough spunk to leave her Spanx in the dressing room.

What did you think of the Rosie Show premiere? Sound off in the comments, and for all my TV recaps and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.