Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I'd Lick Him For Ten

     First off, I want to say how much I love Hannah Lawrence and her amazing blog skills. She rocks. So I'm going to piggy back (re: steal) on her last post and write my evaluation of Jimmy Fallon's first go at the "Late Night" desk. Everyone else is sharing their opinions, so why not me?
I'm so glad that Conan O'Brien did the show's cold open, because it's great to see him help Fallon out, and see that at least they're pretending there's no bad blood. Conan's a mensch. Plus, I'm a big fan of Conan doing the self-deprecating humor we all love. That's a big gesture from the only other person on the planet who has been in Fallon's situation. Plus, I miss Conan's face already.
The new "Late Night" intro, theme song, set, and bumpers all feel just a little too hip. Fallon appears to be trying way too hard to be distinct. Having The Roots as a house band is radical enough, but the whole thing feels like a classier version of "Last Call with Carson Daly." That's NOT good. I'd like to see a more traditional set design and maybe a more classic-sounding theme song, but that last request might be a waste of The Roots' talent, which would be a shame. The Roots are definitely the coolest house band on late night TV and I'd love to see ?uestlove emerge like Max Weinberg did on Conan's "Late Night." 
"Saturday Night Live" freaks like me recognize Steve Higgins from various sketches. He's a former writer/producer and I think a great choice as Fallon's announcer. Hopefully he'll get to demonstrate his sketch skills in a role similar to Conan's announcer Joel Godard's on "Late Night."
     Fallon's monologue was decent, but it wasn't great. I saw him perform stand-up live once, and it was pretty funny, but he isn't a natural like David Letterman or Chris Rock. He definitely has some kinks to work out with his writing staff, but Fallon's delivery was solid. "Slow Jam the News" was a funny bit, but as a "Late Night" diehard the bit felt a lot like a rip-off of Conan's recurring characters Sweet Tree and Morgan.
      "Lick it For Ten" is a cute idea, but it definitely felt way too Rosie O'Donnell and not nearly "Late Night" enough. I know Fallon will only succeed by putting his own stamp on the show, but if he's going to imitate someone, it shouldn't be a daytime hostess.
      There were a few flashes of promise during Fallon's interview with Robert DeNiro. Fallon, much like O'Brien before him, knows that a late night talk show host has to be an excellent ad-libber. Fallon isn't there yet, but he showed potential. If only his interviewing skills and storytelling were better, then we'd be in business.
Fallon suffered through some visible flop sweat. That's too bad, but it was humanizing.
Watching the Justin Timberlake interview, I couldn't help but wish he'd be Fallon's sidekick. They have great chemistry, but Justin's too busy kicking ass at everything he does (I'll forget The Love Guru out of respect). Also, I couldn't tell if "The Phone" was a skit or not. Seriously.
Justin Timberlake as John Mayer=Priceless.
Justin Timberlake as Michael McDonald=Frighteningly accurate and thus AMAZING.
The Timberlake segment made me realize that Fallon will only be successful as a late night host if he can make the show fun. The interview with Timberlake was the highlight of the show, by far. It's easy for Fallon to have fun with a guest as charismatic, popular, and talented as Timberlake. The key will be having that kind of fun with the Joaquin Phoenix's of the world.
Van Morrison is still a bad ass, and Astral Weeks is still amazing all these years later. I'm so glad he closed out Fallon's first show.
As I watched Fallon look at the wrong camera while wrapping up the show, I realized he still has a lot to learn. Critics are going to slay him, viewers are going to devour him, and there are going to be more bad shows than good for the first year. It's a steep learning curve with no guardrails, especially because of his name recognition and reputation. He almost has it harder than that lanky redheaded comedy writer who took over for Letterman 16 years ago. Yet he's got a good crew in place and his first show makes me want to root for him, and leads me to believe he'll one day succeed in the late night slot.

-Meryn, who will always have a special place in her heart devoted to men who host late night shows.

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