Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: Debut review

Settle down, everybody. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon debuted on NBC overnight, and we already knew that the show's debut would bring in higher ratings (2.3 rating, 8 share in metered markets, compared to Conan's final season average of 1.7, according to the network — full ratings info available Thursday), that Jimmy Fallon would be nervous, that the crowd would be excited, and that all late-night shows will evolve into something else over time (see: Conan, Kimmel, Ferguson). So, again I type, settle down, everybody. Your reviews are not helping anyone really. Although, in the name of truth-telling, it should be acknowledged that some casual viewers tune in to the debut of any show and make snap judgments about whether to become regular viewers. For them, and for you, some thoughts.

Cold Open: Perfect. Just perfect. Opening cold (just like SNL), viewers still expecting to see Conan O'Brien indeed saw Conan O'Brien, packing up his things in what is now Fallon's dressing room, to literally hand the show off to him. And they get to make a jab about the fact that Jay Leno is not leaving.

Monologue: Fallon managed to handle the hyper teen audience with some ad-libs, proving Lorne Michaels right for telling Fallon to spend much of 2008 on the road in comedy clubs to prepare for heckling and all sorts of nonsense like this. The jokes themselves had some moments, too (Disclosure: I know of and am a fan of some of Fallon's writers, and could pick out a couple of their selections), but things really got interesting when the monologue segued into…

Slow Jammin' the News: Conan learned how to make Max Weinberg and his band members more than just musical accompaniment, but also comedy foils. Right off the bat, Fallon lets his great musical choice in The Roots step up to the plate and deliver some additional funny.

Target Demographic: Looks like this could be a regular feature in the opening weeks. Fallon says how the network executives are focused on selling him to specific demographics. First up: Blonde moms (from Connecticut). It's a taped piece with voiceover. Dry, wry, sly. Did you know the head writer, A.D. Miles, also worked with Robert Smigel on SNL's TV Funhouse bits and had his own webisode satire, Horrible People? If not, now you know.

Lick it for $10: Um, yeah. On the positive, I thought this audience-interaction bit (combined with the Slow Jam) allowed Fallon a few minutes to calm his own nerves after the monologue so he'd be collected for his first interviews behind the desk. Good safe choice. And yet. OK. So three young audience members make their way down to the stage (they're all locals, coincidence?). The "game" parodies product placement with "fake" companies manufacturing a lawnmower and printer/scanner/copier, plus a goldfish bowl. The premise is as simple as the title: You lick it, you get $10. Perhaps this is also a social commentary on ourselves, and how people really do anything for money, because these kids don't even flinch at the premise. Of course, once the lawnmower gets rolled onstage by an NBC page, neither Fallon nor the staff had decided where and how the audience member would actually lick the lawnmower. Ask the audience? This turned out to be anticlimactic. I know they have other "games" up their sleeves, and look forward to them, plus some retooling of this game.

Robert DeNiro: They did the same exact thing they did in 2000!!! C'mon guys. I already showed you this clip from SNL. I already explained that DeNiro is notorious for being a horrible interview. So this should not have surprised you. They also did that Space Train sketch, so kudos for doing that within the context of the show. Otherwise, another safe choice.

Justin Timberlake: A late addition to the debut show, most people first thought and/or hoped for a redux of "The Barry Gibb Talk Show" sketch Timberlake did with Fallon on SNL. The Roots introduced him to that music, and they did sing a version of it as the Jimmy Fallon Talk Show, and after some awkward banter between the two that didn't really help the viewer in terms of a standard interview, Timberlake showed off his impersonations of John Mayer and Michael McDonald, with help from The Roots.

Van Morrison: The first musical guest. Sounded good. Some have said you need to keep all of the guests young to appeal to folks up late at night watching TV, but really, don't you want to aim for the best guests (and really really, as a former young person, I grew up listening to classic rock and folk as well as current music, so it's not a crazy idea). And U2 was on Letterman, so Van Morrison is a good choice.

The night overall was full of safe choices, and that's understandable considering it was a debut, and you don't want to take too many risks on night one. You want to give people a small taste of what to expect and who this host is, and they did that. Let's give them some time to get into a groove and find out what kind of show they want to do.

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Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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