After only one week on the air it would be unfair to draw conclusions or make predictions or pass final judgements on the fate of Late Night and its new host. But life is not fair, and with our recent acquirement of a PVR, I was able to watch all five fledgling episodes from high upon my Couch of Comedy/Interview Judgement, commercial free and with high scrutiny as well as notebook in hand.
I will say this for Fallon. He came a long way in just five days. The premiere episode was full of cringe worthy moments, and Fallon was visibly overexcited and verging on panicked. Doing neither celebrity any favors, Robert De Niro was booked as his first guest. On one hand, DeNiro is a New York living legend and his infamous low profile would surely draw an audience. On the other hand, it is equally well known that this low profile stays perfectly intact on the occasion of an interview, often answering in a most minimalistic fashion. Anticipating this, Fallon was all over DeNiro, never giving him the chance to warm up enough to spit out even one anecdote. Instead, Fallon insisted on telling an inane story, which even DeNiro seemed to respond to with the expression on my face: the ‘you got DeNiro out of the shadows so YOU could use up his time telling stories, goofy, nervous Jimmy Fallon??’ expression.
Second guest Justin Timberlake also was a booking boon, but in retrospect, a mistake. Timberlake outshone Fallon as more easily funny, relaxed, entertaining and charismatic. Fallon just appeared a hyper sidekick to Timberlake’s cool commanding presence.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was the attempt at a game called ‘Lick It For Ten’, which has audience members come up and lick random items (strangely described with their prices included) for ten dollars. I don’t have to point out how lame this concept is, do I? Replaying the lick in slow motion adds insult to injury. It isn’t funny, or clever, or even original. It’s stupid and juvenile, and so are several of the jokes and skits the Fallon team has come up with. It also bothered me that the contestants don’t get to keep the item they lick. What is done with them, then? And why tell us you’ve spent $200 or so dollars on a lawnmower for such stupidity in these economic times if you weren’t going to give it away? I don’t get it.
Not all of Fallon’s stuff is so immature and played out, though. The monologue jokes are pretty good and getting better (note to Fallon: drop the snorts of laughter at your own stuff, and forget the fake bowling and you’re good. Failure to heed these two notes at your own risk). Fallon is great with the audience off the cuff and in general in his unscripted moments. His brain runs on overtime and the natural quick witticisms spill out fresh. I think a lot of his ideas might start bright and wind up overworked and dragged out and killed, like in most of the taped segments they cut to relentlessly (pieces on bankers, Facebook, a rejected desk chair, and the Hindenburg all bombed, pardon the pun). People tune in for wacky gags and cool guests, not an homage to SNL via taped pieces that are grossly unfunny. That first night’s monologue did boast one of the week’s highlights though: Slow Jam the News, where house band the Roots (more one them later) drops a sexy backbeat and Fallon jazzily breaks down recent events. It worked, and is one of the few scripted ideas worthy of future episodes.
Second show highlights surprisingly didn’t revolve around Fallon’s ex-SNL co-anchor for the Fake News, Tina Fey. Instead, it again featured the Roots, this time as karaoke music providers for a Bon Jovi super fan from the audience to sing ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ to second guest Jon Bon Jovi. After being serenaded in his guest’s chair, Bon Jovi joined the fan for the end chorus. This probably made her life, and she was obviously thrilled, and it’s the kind of moment an audience can’t get enough of, even when staged, like in Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark video. At the end of the week of shows, this was by far my favorite moment, and probably is what keeps me on the side of optimism when it comes to how Fallon will fare overall.
A word on the Roots. Man, they are ROCKING it for Jimmy Fallon. The show’s opening music, the same every night, has Fallon walking out while the band works it and the singer growls ‘Here I Come’. It is actually an awesome song, and Fallon quite rightly never stops praising the band for their late night superiority. Other late night bands are already paling in comparison. They up the show’s cool factor in brief musical moments beyond measure, and leave the viewer wanting more.
More funny stuff during the week included a piece on ‘Bromance Novels’ that tied up nicely when Fallon said “Available wherever fake books are sold”, and another audience participation game called “Beef Solvers”, where Late Night attempts to squash celebrity ‘beefs’ by giving name plates and scripts to two people from the crowd. In this case, a large man wore a Jennifer sign as another wore one reading Angelina, and they stated their qualms with the other followed by complimentary comments which ‘solved’ the beef. It was good stuff.
It will be interesting to see what happens once the big names [all seemingly personal friends of Fallon’s: Timberlake, Fey, Drew Barrymore (who is partners with Fallon’s wife), Cameron Diaz (who is Barrymore’s best friend) and Chef Mario Batali (another guest, Billy Crudup, showed up with a photo of Fallon and Batali golfing together)] subside and Fallon is left without a glowing lineup sponsored by nepotism. It might actually make it easier for him to feel more in charge and give him the opportunity to shine.
Hopefully, he will learn to let the guests shine a little bit more. A major error was made on Friday’s show, when the Fallon team insisted on exposing us to their pre-taped ‘reality show’ called 7th Floor West. It was completely boring and unfunny, and instead of giving Drew Barrymore another interview segment, they had us sit through a second taped ‘episode’. Self-indulgence will bite you in the ass every time. Barrymore’s reputation for late night talk shows speaks for itself, and the audience loves her. She is unpredictable and energetic and usually keeps it pretty fun and interesting. Bad move forcing us all into the dreary dull dud that was 7th Floor West while she sat there as helpless as the rest of us. Wasted potential.
But the potential is there. Fallon has it. He is funny, and hopefully the nerves settle and he becomes endearing rather than annoying, and uses his time to develop interview skills rather than pre-taped garbage better suited to SNL. If all else fails, maybe the Roots could play a little longer on-air. For now, I’ll be staying tuned. Will you?