Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Talkin' it up on the Jimmy Fallon talk show

A couple of months ago, Craig Ferguson sat in front of the assembled members of the Television Critics Association and asked us very nicely to refrain from reviewing Jimmy Fallon based on Fallon's first episode (which you can watch in its entirety here). Craig later bought us all pizza.

Far be it from me to dishonor the request of a charming Scotsman who feeds me, but I do have a few brief, not really review-y thoughts on the opening night of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" -- while acknowledging that this job is a marathon and not a sprint -- coming up just as soon as I lick a sponsored product...

I think I'm going to watch tonight's "Late Night" to see how Fallon does opposite old "Weekend Update" partner Tina Fey, and then I likely won't watch again for at least three months. Because this is a job you need to grow into, and based on the debut, Fallon has a lot of growing to do.

He was so nervous at times that he made me feel uncomfortable watching him. His interview with Robert DeNiro was a fiasco. DeNiro's a bad guest under ordinary circumstances, but by opening with the list of questions with one-word answers, as opposed to saving it for a moment when the interview went south, Fallon essentially told DeNiro to phone it in. (You could almost see DeNiro's lip curl when Fallon brought up the idea.) The Justin Timberlake interview was only better because Timberlake's so charming and funny that he was able to carry Fallon through what felt like his version of "The Chris Farley Show." ("Remember when we played the Bee Gees? That was awesome!") And even there, Fallon was so clumsy that he gave the impression that the MTV show clip Timberlake showed wasn't real, when apparently it was.

The comedy bits were a mixed bag. Slow-jamming the news worked, with a huge assist from The Roots, but the product-licking seemed like the sort of thing a talk show might have done in the '70s or '80s, when I suppose they were trying for something more akin to "Jackass." (What's so gross about licking the outside of a goldfish bowl? Or a lawnmower that obviously hasn't just been out mowing a lawn?) And there was none of the 21st century, plugged-in vibe that Fallon's been promising in all his interviews. This was a very traditional talk show episode, and not a very good one.

Again, I want to give the guy some time to get his footing. Conan was pretty terrible for a long time (though Fallon, of course, has much more performing and on-camera experience than Conan did back in 1993), Kimmel took forever to figure out what he was doing, etc. But as I wrote around the time Fallon's hiring was announced, he's never struck me as someone with a real comic identity. Even if he gets the nerves under control and learns how to carry a conversation, what's the show? Last night didn't give me much of a clue, but per Craig, I'll keep an open mind.

What did everybody else think?

45 comments:

Chris Littmann said...

It's funny, I was just watching a clip over on Engadget where Fallon actually looked relatively at ease and it was more because he was the interview subject as opposed to the interviewer. The thing that excites me about Fallon is the different approach he's going to bring to some things (like treating video game releases like movie releases, and having people on like Engadget's editor-in-chief). I'm really unsure about the comedy part of the show, but I'm excited about the progressive nature of some of the content.

Alan Sepinwall said...

That may be interesting, but there was absolutely no progressive content in his debut show.

Anonymous said...

don't mean to be a dick, alan. but i think you meant to write, "it's a marathon, not a SPRINT."

Nicole said...

The whole talk show format is pretty tired and even if Fallon does improve, I can't see myself watching unless there is a compelling guest.

Daily Show and Colbert Report at least inject a lot more comedy and/or political thought in the format, and I watch them more than any other talk show at the moment. And they air earlier too.

At the end of the day, it seems as though they are all variations of a white guy behind a desk.

Alan Sepinwall said...

don't mean to be a dick, alan. but i think you meant to write, "it's a marathon, not a SPRINT."

I did indeed. Fixed. Thanks, Not-Dick.

Anonymous said...

Fallon last night made Spike Feresten, Magic Johnson and Chevy Chase's shows look like Johnny Carson....it wasn't even access cable good. now it can be said that tina fey is even more of genius than first thought with 30 Rock. last night's debacle proved that Fey was the brains behind weekend update and carried Fallon.

i know it's a marathon, alan, but come on. at least conan had the excuse that he had never been in front of the camera.

here's a noble concept. give the Roots their own show and have aFallon as a sidekick. now THAT would be a show off the hizzle!

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan what were Leno's and Letterman's first nights like? Were they at all sketchy or were they both strong right off the bat? I wasn't around then so I'd be interested to know.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I've never seen Letterman's first NBC episode. His first CBS show was great, but of course he'd already been doing the job for a long time. And when Leno took over "The Tonight Show" permanently, he already had years of experience as a fill-in host. You'd have to go back to his first guest-hosting stint, which I also haven't seen, to make a fair comparison.

bgt said...

RE: Leno's first show.

As everyone was quick to point out -- and rightly so -- Jay made the unforgivable mistake of not thanking or even mentioning Johnny during his first show.

As for Letterman, even his first "Late show" on NBC wasn't really his first show, he had that weird morning or daytime show on NBC that ran for a bit before they moved him to the post-Carson slot.

J said...

I know it's not fair to judge these things by their first night... but you have months of preparation and then have three audience members lick product?

Why is ?uestlove tucked under the stairs?

I'm still waiting for Ferguson to pull out the stops and do a full-fledged cast-of-hundreds puppets-and-sparklers yodelling number. But if he gains any audience share from this, the world will prove itself a just and wise place. (I am not expecting this to happen.)

Bg Porter said...

re: Letterman's first show

Not only did he have the NBC daytime show preceding Late Night (June-October 1980), but he got that gig on the basis of being a regular guest host on The Tonight Show.

Michael said...

Fallon just doesn't seem comfortable enough in his own skin. He's great with imressions but as himself he seems very antsy. When Timberlake did the Michael Mcdonald bud light lime song and Fallon got up to dance he seemed impossibly tense for a guy who spent years on a live show doing impressions. He also may never correct the Laugh during everything tick he had on SNL.

Other problems seemed to include the fact that he didn't interview so much as try to do bits. I skipped the DeNiro interview after he started with his one word answer thing. Did he eventually ask questions that could be answered and let DeNiro talk.

Finally, and I love Van Morrison, two of the three guests on the show just did not seem like they belonged. If this is supposed to be hip and new, having an aged rock legend (but one kids don't really understand in the way they might get U2 or the Boss etc...) and a very stiff DeNiro just seemed like poor choices.

The guy isnt Carson Daly bad but let's hope this isnt an indication of things to come. Otherwise they should just give Timberlake his own show. The kid just radiates charm. Hopefully with Fey on we will get to see an actually interview and Fallon can be more comfortable out there.

Sonia said...

Has Jimmy Fallon ever guest hosted any of these late night talk shows before getting one of his own?

Tyroc said...

I thought the bit with Conan was funny, the monologue was okay (the delivery a bigger issue than the writing), and the slow jamz bit I thought was quite funny. The JT interview was also strong as he's such a great guest.

The rest did indeed stink, with the licking and the Space Train bit being the lowest point.

I think he's charming if not funny, and that might be enough to get him through as they tighten the show up a bit and see what works. It is odd though that the skits (the non-interview part) with the exception of the Conan part, were the weakest part of the show.

They had months of prep time and they came up with the licking and the space train bit? Not a good sign. The sketches are supposed to carry the show while Jimmy gets more relaxed.

Love the Roots, at least.

Grimoald said...

I think your most accurate comment in the comedic identity one. Fallon in general seems like an eager, but not particularly charismatic blank slate. There doesn't seem to be much personality there, it seemed to be a very bland interview show.

I didn't watch Conan when it started, and I may be influenced by having seen him develop first, but his first show (which is available on the interwebs) had a pretty clear voice despite the very edgy Conan delivery. Though that no doubt had something to do with the fact he had a very brilliant head writer in Robert Smigel.

Alap said...

re: "Has Jimmy Fallon ever guest hosted any of these late night talk shows before getting one of his own?"

I could be wrong, but I think he's filled in for Letterman once or twice. Or maybe it was during that gap between Kilborn and Ferguson on the Late Late Show when a bunch of different hosts got a trial run at the job (I think Sarah Rue was one of them too?).

J said...

Love the Roots, at least.

Y'know, why not give them the show? Or Daly's slot. I would watch that! Something like that old David Sanborn Night Music thing. The group is already doing a weekly ($10!)residency in NYC that promises guest performers. Film that.

Omagus said...

From the moment I heard that Jimmy Fallon was replacing Conan O'Brien, I thought that it just seemed like an ill fit. The only reason I tuned in to the show was to see how the Roots worked as a house band.

I agree that De Niro was a horrible choice to be the first guest. I think the decision was to bring in a huge name but he's just not the kind of personality to be a good guest. Timberlake was great; he saved the interview segments from being a complete fiasco.

I agree that Fallon deserves time to grow into the role but he had a LOT of time to prepare for this first show. For the time being, why not play to your strengths? He has one of the most talented bands on the planet on his show, and I'm sure there are more people like me who tuned in specifically for that reason. Give them some more shine until Fallon finds his footing.

tabernacle said...

Are folks here pro-, anti-, or indifferent toward _Fever Pitch_ (that baseball movie with Fallon and Drew Barrymore)?

Personally, I found JF had a sort of laid-back charisma there, like he wasn't trying too hard; but I also have a sense of his having only three or four faces, at the most. It'll be interesting to see how he fares over decades, having to be on daily.

Hey, pretty random save for the SNL connection, but:

You know how the word "iron" is kind of pronounced "eye-earn" (instead of "eye-rohn")? Well... Am I making this up, or is "Lorne" (of "Lorne Michaels") kind of pronounced "loh-rehn" (like "Lauren," rather than "lohrn" or "Lorn")?

Canuck148 said...

I'm not surprised, but I think most people are being unduly critical of Jimmy Fallon. The first show was entertaining enough. Not everything worked (licking a lawnmower?) and some ideas were meant to be funny-lame (Space Train?) As someone else said, The Roots are awesome,the Conan bit was funny, as was JT and the "blonde moms" demographic profile. If Fallon is guilty of anything, it might be trying too hard to please. But, in this situation, that's natural, isn't it?

Hey, Alan -- you said Dave's first CBS show was great but the thing I remember is how the (late, great) Paul Newman's "Cats" joke seemed to lay an egg with the apparently clueless audience. No?

Having said all that, I find it wince-worthy that his first week's slate of guests is filled with his friends (Tina Fey, JT, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore et al) Are all the other non-friend celebs afraid to take a chance on the show? Oy!

Anonymous said...

As someone who thought Fallon did his best to ruin SNL, hates all of his movies, and expected him to completely suck at this, he did surprisingly well. I actually liked most of his monologue jokes (the problem was more the delivery and the flat audience, which can be fixed). I also thought he did a good job handling the hecklers in the crowd, and seemed to at least RECOGNIZE when jokes were bailing (which suggests he'll work to fix it). The thing I always hated about Jay was that he never seems to adapt his stuff. He just delivers his material and has never learned to react to stuff going well or poor. Fallon has promise that he may make changes.

I skipped the lick stuff because of time. DeNiro was a bad choice, but I could never tell if they told DeNiro to be especially curmudgeonly or if it was his own doing. I think it could have been really funny if Fallon played it as a gag.

And I'm coming around to JT. Haven't seen him in awhile, but it sucks that he's that talented. He seemed more prepared to do skits and run a talk-show than Fallon.

Dan said...

Mildly OT, but speaking as a Brit, I find it bizarre that Craig Ferguson is a big-name US chat show host. He was never really "famous" in the UK, so it's quite a rarity to see someone fail in their native land and find huge success abroad. How *did* that happen? And the patriot in me finds it a bit traitorous when Brits get American citizenship for career purposes. Put me right off Anthony Hopkins (no longer referred to as "Sir" at the Oscars, because of this?)

lungfish said...

Jimmy seemed nervous and sweaty. Make-up needs to do a better job of powdering his forehead.

Craig said...
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Craig said...
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Craig said...

Perhaps he'll get better but I can only comment on what I saw. He was quite simply abysmal. The only things in the show that were funny were funny because of other people, Conan, Justin and that Roots guy on the slow jam. Whoever booked Deniro should be fired. Interviewing him on your first night is like having a pitcher come up from the minors to face Ryan Howard - the Phillie, not the guy from The Office. He was clearly overmatched. He was overly nervous, jittery, unfunny and just plain uncomfortable to watch. Good point Alan about people saying Conan wasn't good to begin with and answering it by saying Jimmy had far more experience than he did. I'll watch Tina Fey tonight and then probably delete the Record All command from my DVR.

Adam said...

Timberpants is just remarkably talented, and I always look forward to his SNL appearances. And count me in as pro-SlowJamz; well, anything that gives ?uestlove airtime is alright by me.

Beyond that, I hate that dime-store mimbo and hope his show crashes and burns.

Bobman said...

It doesn't matter how good or bad he is - I am too biased against him to ever give him a fair chance. He seems like a nice enough guy, but he can't act for S, the only memorable thing he ever did on SNL was laugh at his own jokes (one of few people who actually laughed at his jokes), and dammit if his movie aren't all terrible. He hasn't exactly earned a fair shake given his record, has he?

Anonymous said...

Best part of the show: The Roots' "Here I Come" is the theme song!

Worst part of the show: Pretty much everything else. Fallon has never been funny and apparently he's not starting now.

jim treacher said...

The Conan gag was pretty funny.

Um...

jim treacher said...

Mildly OT, but speaking as a Brit, I find it bizarre that Craig Ferguson is a big-name US chat show host. He was never really "famous" in the UK, so it's quite a rarity to see someone fail in their native land and find huge success abroad.

He wasn't here either. Still isn't, actually.

Kris said...

Dan—

Craig worked several years for a successful sitcom here, The Drew Carey Show. He also did standup and a few movies.

When a vacancy opened up in CBS's late late spot, he was one of the people rotated through as guest host. The producers saw something in him and he got the job. He didn't really catch hold until he had had the job for a few months, and stopped doing a scripted monologue and just started riffing on topics of the day.

Fallon was a lot better with Tina Fey last night, but it still wasn't anything special.

Castaway said...

Dan, the universe is still balanced---Craig Ferguson isn't a big name here either. He does have a talk show, and he's pretty good at it, but if you asked most people on the street they wouldn't know who he is.

If only we could say the same about Jimmy Fallon...

Dan said...

Hmm, I was under the impression that Craig Ferguson was a bigger deal. But still, he's hardly a flop in the US. I do find it weird when he feigns no knowledge of certain British things when interviewing British guests, though. Has he erased his Scottish memories pre-'94? Is that what happens when you pledge allegiance to the US flag?

dez said...

I do find it weird when he feigns no knowledge of certain British things when interviewing British guests, though. Has he erased his Scottish memories pre-'94? Is that what happens when you pledge allegiance to the US flag?


I don't watch Craig enough to know, but I would guess it's either shtick (especially if it's about common British things even Americans know) or it's in relation to things that took hold after he moved to America, and thus he truly doesn't know what his guests are referring to.

Anonymous said...

Here's Fallon guest hosting for Letterman. I wonder if anyone at NBC watched this before they handed him the keys to "Late Night."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGJWzepLJX4

Anonymous said...

did anybody watch Vince Vaughn when he guest hosted for Dave? I thought he was great and refreshing. Maybe he still wants to do movies, but I'm amazed how Hollywood works, basically ignoring indications of talent to go with a guy (Fallon) with dubious prospects.

jim treacher said...

Hmm, I was under the impression that Craig Ferguson was a bigger deal.

Late-night shows have a much smaller audience than might be indicated by the attention of TV critics.

did anybody watch Vince Vaughn when he guest hosted for Dave?

He was definitely the best guest host. Worst was a tie between Dana Carvey and Garofalo.

jim treacher said...

Although I'm pretty sure Garofalo was the first one to put Zach Galifianakis on national TV, so I'll give her that.

Dan said...

@Jim. Thanks for that. I'm also surprised so many US chat-shows are on past 11.30pm. Here in the UK, that's considered past primetime and not worth investing the time/effort into new shows specifically for that timeslot. You tend to just get repeats or movies.

Jonathan Ross' show*, our closest equivalent to Leno/Letterman, starts at 10.30pm. Maybe Leno's earlier show will actually prove the pre-11pm timeslot suits Americans, too. Or maybe Americans are just natural night owls and it's never been a problem. But, wow, the idea of a chat-show interviewing someone like Tom Cruise around midnight just seems crazy to me.

* Incidentally, Michael C. Hall is on this week. Has he ever been interviewed on Leno/Letterman/Conan? I don't see any YouTube evidence for that. Dexter fans should hit YT on Saturday for a treat.

Tiana said...

Slow Jamming with The Roots and JT's impression of Michael McDonald were the best parts of the show! I agree, let's watch this week and then try it again in the summertime!
One good thing - - at least Fallon didn't throw up on camera from anxiety!

Tracey said...

I do find it weird when he feigns no knowledge of certain British things when interviewing British guests, though. Has he erased his Scottish memories pre-'94? Is that what happens when you pledge allegiance to the US flag?

I don't watch him enough to know, but perhaps he's just doing that for the benefit of his American audience? It's never fun listening to people talk about things you don't understand, so perhaps he pretends not to understand to get the guest to explain the British thing?

Tracey said...

I do find it weird when he feigns no knowledge of certain British things when interviewing British guests, though. Has he erased his Scottish memories pre-'94? Is that what happens when you pledge allegiance to the US flag?

I don't watch him enough to know, but perhaps he's just doing that for the benefit of his American audience? It's never fun listening to people talk about things you don't understand, so perhaps he pretends not to understand to get the guest to explain the British thing?

m0nty said...

Excuse my ignorance of SNL matters, but why did Tina Fey not get this gig? Does American TV have something against women as late night hosts?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Fey already has a job -- and a more prestigious job than hosting a talk show.