You won’t believe this, but we at Playboy sometimes get it wrong when we’ve got our See The Future Magic Glasses on. Last week, when we heard that NBC’s new Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly newsmagazine was planning to kick things off by broadcasting Fascinatin’ Megyn’s exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin, we got mildly worried. What if Kelly ended up being the Kremlin boss’s enabler in a charm offensive designed to pull ye olde balaclava wool over gullible Americanski viewers’ eyes at exactly the wrong moment, what with Russiagate and all? But if their sit-down was Putin’s idea of how to seduce Poughkeepsie or Des Moines, we’re sure hate to see him when he’s cranky.
That’s not only because people who’ve seen him when he’s cranky have a hobby of turning up dead, something Kelly only brought up obliquely. All the same, she did bring it up to his face, which might easily have targeted her for a poison dart in the neck or a quickie tourist cruise out of a fourth-story window if her name was Megynskaya Kellinov. But even then, Putin’s heretofore unsuspected ability to make himself as dreary as a harried 7/11 franchisee complaining about the McDonald’s down the block carried the day. It can’t have been a joyous moment for Kelly and her producers when they realized their big get was determined to make the average trout fisherman’s conversations with the catch of the day seem exciting by comparison, but they plainly did their best to salvage things in the editing room.
We don’t care who is head of the United States.
For starters, the segment only lasted a skimpy 12 minutes or so, even with quickie biographical footnotes, snippets of Kelly’s exchanges with Putin at a St. Petersburg panel she recently moderated to add visual (but definitely not verbal) variety, and still photographs of Vlad that were more dynamic than the actual Q&A. Letting it run any longer would have had America’s channel surfers checking out The Real Housewives of Potomac in droves, which is not what NBC was hoping for. A man whose basic tactic when confronted is to keep issuing blanket denials in a bored voice as his eyes fidget like two pennies trying to avoid sinking to the bottom of a Slurpee does not make for compelling TV.
The absurdity of Putin’s “Nothing to see here” routine should have made it more entertaining than it was, starting with his bland dismissal of Russia having any reason to hack the 2016 election in the first place: “We don’t care who is head of the United States.” Apparently, we’re so trivial to his worldview that his minions don’t even bother to inform him of the latest Russiagate bombshell. “I don’t know about the proposal,” he said, incredibly, when Kelly quizzed him about Jared Kushner’s alleged bid to set up a back channel with Moscow before inauguration day.
Would you believe he’s never even spoken to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak about it? Because Kelly does infectious incredulity better than any other TV talking head, we were hoping for one of her patented chortles or even smirks in response to that one, but she was keeping her Serious Game Face on for the benefit of Fox News non-fans tuning in her act for the first time. So far as optics went, the funniest tribute to her take-no-prisoners persona was a two-shot whose angle turned her prey into a blinking pygmy and Kelly into a Valkyrie.
Putin’s one deft moment came when his interlocutor asked him about his connection to Michael Flynn, Trump’s swiftly disgraced first National Security Adviser, who’s now got a grand jury looking into his Russia ties. “You and I have a much closer relationship than I had with Michael Flynn,” he told her, a line that might have had a better chance of disconcerting Fascinatin’ Megyn if he’d only purred it instead of sounding aggrieved. But even so, because we’re heartless bastards as well as patriots, we got a kick out of imagining Flynn’s stunned reaction as he shook his fist at the TV in a dusky hotel room in Alexandria, Virginia: “That’s just not true, Vladimir! You know that’s not true. Why, you told me only yesterday that while you were with her, you were thinking of me the whole time.”