Jimmy Fallon kicked off his career as a television talk show host last night, replacing Conan O’Brien on Late Night. I’ve liked Fallon since his SNL “crack up” skits and his stint as co-host of Weekend Update with Tina Fey so I tuned in with my fingers crossed, hoping Jimmy could pull it off. But, even with tempered expectations, I have to say I was a little disappointed.
A funny skit with Conan O’Brien packing up his office opened the show – Conan declining an offer to see Jimmy’s debut taping, even though it was right next door. After that, the show kinda flat-lined for a while. Fallon was a bit awkward, as would be expected: nervously laughing, twitching a bit and staring at the prompter while delivering the monologue. No problem! I completely give Jimmy a pass on that. After all, I can remember similar things from Conan’s first show.
What I can’t give a pass on is the mediocre-at-best writing and the lack of crutches for the first-time host. The jokes were ho-hum and the skits weren’t even up to the level of campy. Lick It For Ten?!? (Three audience members were offered ten dollars each if they would come up on stage and lick something, with the “somethings” turning out to be a new lawn mower, a new copier/scanner, and a goldfish bowl with goldfish in it) And then there was the “Target Audience” segment that featured a pre-recorded video that matter-of-factly talked about the history of blond moms, only attempting humor once with the mention of Brett Butler’s detrimental effect on the demographic. The show did manage to flirt with success during a “Slow Jamming the News” segment in which Jimmy and house band The Roots got soul sexy with such mundane news items as congressional amendments. That ended the first part of the show.
My second major complaint is the choice of Robert DeNiro as the first guest. I’m all about some DeNiro love and respect, but not only is he a revered Hollywood icon that would only exacerbate Jimmy’s nervousness, but he’s not a very dynamic guest. They should have chosen someone that could have shouldered some of the entertainer burden like Robin Williams, Drew Barrymore, or the dirty-joke-telling De Niro contemporary Dustin Hoffman. (Perhaps a former SNL buddy like Tina Fey or Will Ferrell would have had the added effect of calming Fallon’s nerves while also being an entertaining guest) Robert DeNiro was essentially Robert DeNiro during the interview: cool and quiet with very short answers to very long questions. I found myself squirming empathetically during the interview, anxiously awaiting a commercial break. They did have a pre-recorded skit that was OK. It was from a fake movie Fallon and DeNiro co-starred in called Space Train and it featured the two of them in silly outfits arguing and DeNiro fake slapping Fallon. (It’s hard to go wrong when you place tough, serious actors in super-silly skits – Christopher Walken anyone?)
Justin Timberlake was next and I have to say he was great! He took the reigns a little bit, doing wacky, funny impressions of John Mayer, Barry Gibb and Michael McDonald. Jimmy was able to relax some and reveal that he is a pretty goofy and funny dude by nature.
I was kinda worried about Van Morrison as the musical guest. I’m as big a Van Morrison fan as there is (I love it all – even the new-agey ’80s stuff! “Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder?!?” Love it love it love it!), but he’s kinda infamous for not really giving a crap when it comes to things like appearances on television. (Anyone remember his duet with the über-serious Sinead O’Connor on Letterman?) To promote his new album (a recent live performance of his classic album Astral Weeks in its entirety) Van did “Sweet Thing.” After an awkward start, The Round Mound of Sound settled in and cleared the bases with a straightaway shot to center field. Following Morrison’s performance, Jimmy and his guests came over and we got the first sign of excitement from DeNiro as he boyishly hugged Van.
Here’s Jimmy and Justin:
All things said, I’m a little concerned about the show. Jitters and awkwardness can be overcome with time and repetition, but not-so-funny writing doesn’t tend to go away. They had how many months to prepare for this?!? And the best they could come up with was Lick It For Ten and Target Audience: Blond Moms? Heck, poke fun at yourself and Conan by saying your show is on a smaller budget so your characters are a step down from Conan’s – the masturbating turtle, PlumberBot 4000, the sorta tall dachshund, Adequate Max, the Baywatch lever…
I’ll try to remain optimistic. After all, Tina Fey’s on tonight! No way I’m missing that!