Hot Ones, which premiered in 2015, was a pioneering web series when it debuted on YouTube. The concept was simple but inspired many copycats: Celebrity guests are grilled about pop culture and personal projects while eating. In this case, the food is hot wings, which grow increasingly hotter as the interview moves along. The series is now available on HBO Max, but is there any difference between what’s available here and what’s already on YouTube?
HOT ONES: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Actor Adam Devine winces and points to a bottle of hot sauce as he asks his interviewer, Sean Evans, “Sean! What the hell was in that, man?!”
The Gist: Hot Ones was originally conceived as a YouTube series for Complex’s First We Feast YouTube channel. Guests sit down for a typical interview over a plate of ten hot wings, which grow increasingly hotter as they answer a series of questions. For some guests, the wings, and their reactions to the heat, become the focal point of the interview, and the fun of watching involves their cries of pain. Other guests — Kristen Bell comes to mind — take the heat like a champ, and you gain a certain respect by watching just how nonplussed they are by the increasing Scoville units.
Here’s a not-so-secret industry secret: Talk shows usually get their guests to agree to come on when said guest has something to promote. It’s free advertising and it’s mutually beneficial. Someone like Jimmy Fallon gets guests to sing karaoke songs in Tonight Show clips that might go viral, while that guest gets to promote their newest album. That self-promotion has always been a part of the promise with Hot Ones. Finish your plate of wings, and you get time at the end of the episode to promote your new project. The episode is likely timed to premiere when that project is about to launch. Hot Ones on HBO Max has cut most of the promotional conversations out and shaved a few minutes off each episode in the process, distilling the show to the most basic elements: people eating, shooting the breeze, and sometimes crying.
Actor Adam Devine’s Hot Ones interview originally aired on July 4, 2019, just as his Netflix special Best Time of Our Lives was premiering. Gone are the references to it being the 4th of July, and, to make the episode more evergreen, there is no talk of the special premiering soon. But the episode has plenty of fun industry anecdotes, from Devine’s career trajectory, his audition story for Pitch Perfect, and his mom’s reaction to seeing his junk onscreen. He’s a great interview, funny and up for anything, which is probably why he kicks off the series’ debut on HBO Max.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? There are other interview shows with a similar format: Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee and VH1’s Brunch With Tiffany also involve a host getting people to open up over food. Sometimes the food becomes a factor in the conversation, sometimes it doesn’t, but it helps to entice your guests with the prospect of a free meal.
Our Take: Over the past six years, Hot Ones has aired over 200 episodes across 14 seasons. The format has changed slightly since the very first episode, which only clocked in north of five minutes, and guest Tony Yayo didn’t even make it beyond a few wings. By contrast, Devine’s episode’s running time is 24 minutes and despite expressing his pain for the latter half of the interview, he pushed through. Most guests do now. In the past couple years, the format has been perfected, the celebrities have gotten bigger, and the show has become a touchstone for successful web series. Sean Evans comes to the table armed with funny and well-researched questions, which you can tell his subjects appreciate. But the clear star of the series is the wings. (Vegetarian guests get a vegan version, in case you didn’t know.)
The fact that the show has been slightly edited to make the episodes less dated has little effect on the show. (The episodes that appear on HBO Max were all filmed in 2018-2019 and were included in seasons five through ten on YouTube.) Still, none of that really matters to the average viewer who just wants to watch some celebrities talk and eat. This first season to appear on HBO Max features some of the most memorable interviews, including Gordon Ramsay, whose appearance garnered over 81 million views on YouTube, as well as Kristen Bell, the Jonas Brothers, Idris Elba, Schoolboy Q, and Jimmy Butler.
The beauty of Hot Ones is the fact that you’ll never know how someone will react to the heat, and that’s what makes the series so watchable. Do 81 million people love Gordon Ramsay that much that they want to watch an interview with him? No! His most popular appearance on The Tonight Show only has about 4 million views. But to watch Ramsay throw wings across the room, spit them on the floor, and appear to be in deep digestive distress, while still attempting to maintain a normal conversation is a viral sensation. Bless him for signing that release, he certainly didn’t have to. And that unpredictability is what makes Hot Ones special.
Sex and Skin: Just chicken skin doused in vinegary hot pepper sauce.
Parting Shot: As we mentioned, the end of each Hot Ones episode on YouTube used to leave viewers with an appeal to check out the guest’s latest project. Here, that has been stripped down and we are left with, in this case, Evans applauding Devine’s ability to eat all ten wings and not spontaneously combust.
Sleeper Star: Evans is the only recurring star, but I guess you could say the hot sauces deserve an honorable mention for their power to bring most guests to their knees.
Most Pilot-y Line: Spoken through tears that stream down his face, Adam Devine begins, “When I did The Intern, uh, Robert DeNiro’s in that movie — IS THERE ANOTHER NAPKIN?” Nothing quite captures what Hot Ones is more than a guest trying to speak like a normal human while his tear ducts and tastebuds betray him.
Our Call: STREAM IT! That is, if you are relatively new to Hot Ones and enjoy celebrity interviews. The format is fun, as are the guests that have been curated as part of HBO Max’s first season. This is a bit of a “Best Of” season, with some of the biggest names and funniest episodes of the show, with all of the filler edited out. But if you’ve already seen these episodes on YouTube, there’s little in the way of special features or extras to encourage you top watch them again.
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