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Max's 'Smartless on the Road' Is Painfully Self-Indulgent

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 24, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 24, 2023 |


Max — the new home for the merged HBO and Discovery content — launched this week, and with it, Smartless on the Road, the six-episode docuseries following Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes on tour with their Smartless podcast. The three men have had incredibly successful careers, but the Smartless podcast has proven to be the most lucrative — two years ago, Amazon paid $60-$80 million for the exclusive rights. It’s easy to understand why: They are three well-known and likable celebrities who spend an hour once a week chatting with other well-known and likable celebrities, many of whom are their friends. In their decades in the industry, they have amassed a lot of famous friends between them. At some point, it seems, one of the three (or more) has worked with nearly everyone in a certain age bracket.

Perhaps the biggest draw of the Smartless podcast, however, is the banter between the hosts, which is now fairly predictable for longtime listeners: Sean Hayes gets made fun of for eating junk food; Jason Bateman gets made fun of for his refusal to eat junk food; Hayes gets made fun of for asking obvious questions and for being obsessed with Star Wars and superhero movies; Bateman gets made fun of for asking long-winded questions. All three engage in the occasional gay joke, and Arnett and Bateman love to laugh about how Hayes’ father left the family when Hayes was five (Hayes leans into it). Arnett and Bateman also spend a lot of time playing golf, while Hayes has been prepping for his Broadway run as Oscar Levant. There’s also a moment in nearly every episode where the celebrity guest reveals that they are obsessed with the podcast, as well.

If you listen to anyone long enough, you become familiar with their inside jokes and idiosyncrasies, and that is part of the fun of Smartless: After three years, we genuinely feel like we know these three men a little, as well as their spouses, kids, and in the case of Sean, his sister, Tracey. Often the best part of any episode is the five-minute exchange of banter each episode before they introduce the guest. But importantly, the guest is still the main draw.

Smartless on the Road, filmed inexplicably in black-and-white, reverses those elements. Each 45-50 minute episode spends five or maybe 10 minutes with the on-stage guest in front of a live audience, and the rest of the episode is spent with Bateman, Arnett, and Hayes on a private jet, in a hotel room, in a limousine, or in a green room. The second episode, in fact, opens with two or three minutes of them in the gym working out. They’re not even speaking. We just watch Jason Bateman run on a treadmill in silence.

It’s too much. It’s way too much. I will concede that it demystifies their celebrity, but it also illustrates that their celebrity may be the most interesting thing about them. After six episodes spent with them talking about eating, sleeping, and bathroom habits, I need a long break. I feel like I spent six hours stuck in a car with them, and I can smell their body odor, except for Bateman’s because he takes a shower every time he goes to the bathroom or takes a nap and has literally figured out how not to touch the faucet knobs after washing his hands.

Curiously, they believe that this deserves not only to be filmed but to be included in a final product intended for public consumption by actual human eyes. Considering the content that actually makes the cut for each episode, I shudder to imagine how mundane the rest of the tour must have been. There are lengthy, tedious segments of this docuseries that I can’t fathom were intended as “entertainment.” Why did they think we were interested in Sean Hayes’ two flushers? Or Hayes’ recipe for sloppy joes? There is “humanizing,” and then there is Smartless on the Road, which seemingly endeavors to expose the mundane and unremarkable daily lives of celebrities. Thanks?

Granted, the segments featuring the celebrity guests on stage do provide some amusement, partly because they have condensed the 60-minute appearances to their best five or six minutes. I won’t spoil them, as the surprise celebrity guests often form the best part of any given episode, but I will mention that they are predominantly male and include several renowned late-night talk show hosts. Actually, I will divulge episode three. It’s the standout among the six because David Letterman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Bradley Cooper are guests. This episode outshines the others because, for once, it focuses more on the guests than the hosts. Additionally, we get to meet Hayes’ much-discussed husband, Scotty, and his sister, Tracey. Bateman’s wife makes a few appearances, as do Arnett’s girlfriend and kids. They’re not particularly enlightening, except as proof that Arnett is, indeed, a caring father, at least while in front of a camera.

If you spent enough time with any celebrity, I suspect we would learn that most of them aren’t wildly interesting people. Sometimes, there’s a reason why celebrities are best appreciated on red carpets, in carefully planned four-minute late-night talk show appearances, or on hour-long podcasts. That’s about as long as anyone can be entertaining, and the fact that the charms of the Smartless hosts do surpass that window of time is not a knock against them. However, the fact that they think the rest of their lives should be filmed and packaged as entertainment certainly is.