The Late Late Show with James Corden, review: Slick operation combines British wit with American polish

·4 min read
The Late Late Show with James Corden from London airing Monday, June 27, 2022, with guests Billie Eilish and David Harbour - Terence Patrick
The Late Late Show with James Corden from London airing Monday, June 27, 2022, with guests Billie Eilish and David Harbour - Terence Patrick

What exactly is Britain’s beef with James Corden? He’s one of our most successful showbiz exports, hosting an Emmy-winning chat show, earning plaudits on Broadway and starring in blockbuster films. He’s created beloved TV franchises such as Carpool Karaoke over there and Gavin & Stacey over here. Yet for some reason in his native UK, Corden is “divisive”, to put it politely.

The Late Late Show with James Corden (Sky Comedy) provided a chance to consider the reasons up close. Corden was presenting a special run of episodes from his motherland – an annual tradition that has been kiboshed by Covid since 2019 – for the last time. He steps down from the CBS fixture in April 2023 after an eight-year stint. The boy from Hillingdon is heading home, whether you like it or not.

Broadcast from Freemasons’ Hall in Central London for four nights, Corden oversaw the usual mix of musical turns, comic skits and A-list couch-sitters. However, it was a pair of young popstrels who thoroughly stole the show.

The week’s headline signing was actually the US President, with the “Take a Break” segment taking Corden to the White House as temporary assistant to Joe Biden. The clip was billed to air tonight but got bumped to a later episode, just to keep viewers coming back.

Also missing was Corden’s headline-grabbing opening monologue from the US transmission. It eschewed topical gags in favour of an impassioned three-minute speech in front of the Houses of Parliament, condemning the Supreme Court’s vote to overturn Roe vs Wade. Righteously angry fare, so why cut it from the UK edition? Women’s rights are universal, after all. Besides, it can’t be often that 84-year-old Kirkcaldy politician David Steele gets a namecheck on primetime entertainment programmes.

James Corden, Billie Eilish and David Harbour - CBS
James Corden, Billie Eilish and David Harbour - CBS

Happily, this episode was still sufficiently starry. Fresh from becoming Glastonbury’s youngest ever headliner, 20-year-old Billie Eilish joined for the “Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts” slot – renamed “Spill The Tea” for one week only. I half-expected Paddington and the Queen to turn up.

Eilish let Corden read her social media DMs, which were endearingly wholesome, but drew the line at naming the worst celebrity she’d ever met and duly dry-heaved as she ate a Festering Fishfinger Sandwich. By contrast, Corden chose to chow down and reach for the sick bucket, rather than read aloud his last three texts from Harry Styles or admit how much money CBS had offered to extend his contract. It was a cute featurette and Eilish came out of it particularly well.

Billie Eilish and James Corden - CBS
Billie Eilish and James Corden - CBS

Grammy-winning diva Lizzo clink-clunked her seatbelt for a Carpool Karaoke session, reminding us why the front seat singalong became such a viral phenomenon. As she and Corden belted out a medley of her hits – and one of her idol Beyoncé’s – Lizzo worked the camera like a pro. She chair-danced, played flute, prised her thong from somewhere painful and poked fun at her own tendency to flash the flesh. The charismatic Houston hip-hop queen and the refreshingly down-to-earth Eilish made for a winning duo.

Actor David Harbour also dropped by. Handily, he’s currently starring in a West End play less than a mile away. He discussed meeting his wife Lily Allen on a dating app, did an impression of Skeletor from He-Man and teased the “insane” conclusion to Stranger Things’ latest season, which premieres on Netflix this Friday. Nice enough but he had to settle for third billing behind the girls.

The sound was slightly echoey but that’s one pitfall of transporting a production of this size across the Atlantic and into an art deco temple. Corden’s accent wandered back and forth across the Pond, which is another occupational hazard. Constant cutting to US commercial breaks gave proceedings a stop-start feel. Musical maestro Reggie Watts’ band were dressed in Sergeant Pepper suits. To American eyes, Liverpool and London are clearly interchangeable.

This was a slick operation, combining eccentric British wit with big-budget American polish. So why does Corden remain more appreciated in America than here at home? Is he too multi-talented, too well-connected and too pleased with himself about it all? Is there a sense that he should know his place, which is probably playing the big-boned sidekick in British comedies, rather than having the temerity to take Tinseltown by storm? Is he over-exposed and over-eager to be liked? Is it sizeism, snobbery or a backlash against success?

As well as some bloke called Biden, his guests over the next three nights include singers Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, and actors John Boyega, Minnie Driver, Tess Thompson, Vin Diesel and Jamie Dornan. It’s a line-up that would make home-grown chat show hosts weep with envy. Perhaps that’s why James Corden gets so criticised: out of jealousy. Either that or the fact that his middle name is Kimberley.

The Late Late Show with James Corden airs at 10pm nightly until Friday on Sky Comedy and streaming service NOW.