Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Heeeeeeeeeere's Conan!

Some quick thoughts on Conan O'Brien's debut as host of "The Tonight Show" coming up just as soon as I hit the 99-cent store...

When Conan wrapped up his "Late Night" stint in February, I wrote "there was a sense that Conan's 'Late Night' was less a traditional talk show than a sketch comedy show with occasional interviews." His first episode of "Tonight" was, essentially, "Late Night" on a larger stage: a monologue, lots of filmed comedy pieces, and only one interview -- and even that was with a guest, Will Ferrell, who approaches these appearances as an excuse to goof around with the host.

By going with so much comedy upfront -- and so much of Conan's own oddball kind of comedy, like the bit where he drove his beat-up Ford Taurus around LA to the strains of Billy Ocean's "Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car" -- Conan was simultaneously reassuring his fans that he wasn't going to change too much in the new gig, and telling the traditional "Tonight" audience what they might expect from the new landlord.

This was the smart, and really only, play Conan could make on night one of such a high-profile job. I just wish the execution had been a little better. There was a lot of Conan-style comedy, but other than the Taurus bit and the opening cross-country run (scored, perfectly, to Cheap Trick's "Surrender," a song that automatically makes any montage at least 10% better), most of the bits fell fairly flat. Conan as Universal Studios tour guide went on way too long (and unlike, say, Conan at an old-time baseball game, there wasn't enough of a payoff at the end to make the time worth it), the "Hollywoo" and Laker game gags weren't especially funny even at a brief length, and there wasn't enough interaction between Conan and Andy, even with Andy in his new role as announcer instead of sidekick. I think I laughed more at the tease Conan showed on Jay's final "Tonight" on Friday of Conan undercover with a focus group (which I guess we'll see more of later this week) than I did at everything in this episode.

It wasn't a bad show, and Conan has certainly banked so much goodwill from me and most "Late Night" viewers that him being uneven on his first night isn't that big a deal. And I'm certainly not predicting doom for him -- you would think we all learned that lesson after his first couple of years on "Late Night" -- but I do wonder if any Jay fans who were on the fence about giving this freakishly tall replacement a shot may have hopped off the fence after last night to wait for their man to return in primetime in September.

What did everybody else think?

36 comments:

Tom said...

I enjoyed it. We'll probably have to wait a few weeks until Conan and his crew are really into the swing of things for it to run smoother, but I got good vibes from last night's show.

The opening bit of Conan running across the country was really great, not so much for comic value but because it set a nice tone: Conan being goofy while taking over this very American institution that is the Tonight Show.

Matt said...

The "Cheap Trick enhancement phenomenon" is not restricted to "Surrender," but also includes at least "I Want You To Want Me" and (as we know from Lost) "Dream Police."

John said...

Alan you're right about Conan banking a lot of good will. I will pretty much laugh at anything he does so I guess I'm not a good test case for this. When he held up that wacky z-brand soda during the Universal bit and then threw it into the gutter I was in hysterics. We def need more Andy though.

Carl said...

I was hoping he'd hit a home run in his first show, but this felt more like an RBI double.

I think a lot of Conan fans have been hyping up his Tonight Show ascendancy and forgotten that in the end, this is just another show for him (albeit with a three month break between shows), and it just happened to be a little bit of a clunker.

Craig said...

I've been a Conan fan for a long time -- a long krunking time -- but I was disappointed. It felt like he watered down his act to be more acceptable to the Jay Leno crowd. Just be you, Conan!

JoeE said...

Wow, I had the exact opposite reaction, I thought it was pretty solid. Conan was on his A-game, as he always is, and the only weaker parts were the things that were non-Conan related (some of Will Ferrell's stuff fell flat, and Andy Richter seems to be doing his best Ed McMahon impression right now - turn his mic down!).

The bus tour bit would've been lame with almost any other talk show host (and some of the Leno-style jokes in that bit were kind of lame), but Conan totally put his own spin on it with the Circle chant and the trip to the 99 cent store (and the fact that dollar stores sell heads of lettuce is funny by itself). Not surprisingly during that bit, there were some people on the buses who were just not laughing at all - which almost seemed like a meta-comment on audience reactions to Conan - either hysterical laughter (like most of the people on the tour) or none at all.

It was definitely way funnier than The Tonight Show under Leno was on any given night. Granted, I'm not the best test audience either (I wonder how many other people knew the significance of the 1992 Ford Taurus), but as a longtime fan I was quite pleased with the episode. I don't know if he'll ever be able to match the brilliance of Late Night at its peak in this time slot, but Conan before midnight is still win-win.

Carmichael Harold said...

I thought it was a fine first show, but was a bit concerned that even with a decent amount of time to think things through, they don't seem to have a clue as to how to use Andy. He seems to be playing the role of whatever-that-guy's-name-is on Regis, which isn't a good thing.

Baylink said...

I concur with "just be you".

Hell, Leno was certainly no Carson...

Andrew said...

Nerves. While it was orders of magnitude better than his debut at Late Night, Conan was visibly more nervous than he'd been on Late Night in years. Which isn't surprising-- it's a higher profile gig, in a bigger studio in a new city. And with Leno coming back on the air in 3 months, Conan may not have a lot of time to settle in and bring the alienated Leno viewers back to the Tonight Show.

David C said...

I can't say I'm with you on the Universal Backlight package. That was absolute classic Conan. Was it old-timey baseball good? I don't think anything has ever been that good. That's like Ken-Burns-documentary-on-comedy good. But man, the whole thing with Psycho (It's too hot for corduroy! Don't commit murders in the daytime! That's bad planning!) just had me rolling over laughing. It was nuts. And that whole opening was just pure Conan.

The only think I didn't like about the episode was that it was on during Colbert.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Conan generation gap in action: my first Conan-related reader e-mail of the day reads, in its entirety, "Unbelievably childish."

Manton said...

It certainly didn't feel like Late Night At 11:30, so I'm not going to snap judge anything. They'll find the right mix of traditional talk show and tall, pale Irishman, they'll put down Andy's mic and boost the musical guest's. We gave Fallon some time, and (believe it or not) Conan needs some, too. Although I doubt I won't be laughing all the way regardless....

Blair Waldorf said...

Conan running to LA made me unreasonably sad. Cheap Trick made me feel a little bit better (perhaps 10% better) but I hate to think of anyone having to leave New York.

Michael said...

Pretty solid, but they really need to figure out what to do with Andy. The vast majority of the Conan-Andy interaction was just awkward.

Jason said...

Agreed with Michael, they just need to accept that Andy is Ed McMahon and put him on the couch after the monologue.

I thought the show was mediocre, but really, what can you expect after such hype? They need to do it for the long haul.

But I will say this: That set looks beautiful, the opening sequence was fantastic, the new logo seems like a classic... basically I got a whole "this is the show once hosted by Johnny Carson" vibe, which honestly I never got from Leno.

I appreciated that Letterman last night mentioned the fact that once again he didn't get the Tonight Show. And both Conan and Dave did Jay Leno impressions.

Otto Man said...

There were nerves, but a good start all in all. The real thing they need to do is to get the audience to dial down the insanity a bit.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Agreed with Michael, they just need to accept that Andy is Ed McMahon and put him on the couch after the monologue.



The problem, I think, is that Andy wants to be the "announcer" and not the "sidekick" because it gives him greater flexibility to do other things if, say, another sitcom pops up. The announcer gig can always be done, if need be, before the taping happens; if he's expected to be on the couch, then he has to be on the couch.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the criticism that O'Brien's comedy is childish. It implies that Leno's comedy was sophisticated and cerebral. The man made jokes about the dirty double entendres of married people's last names. He made endless jokes about Bill Clinton's libido (though, to be fair, all the late night hosts have done this). Many, many sketches involved gag, gross out humor. I think Leno is just as "childish" as O'Brien only not as funny.

And I would hesitate to call what these guys do as hosting "talk shows;" they're comedy shows with celebrity fluff interviews and music guests. If you want a real talk show, tune in to Charlie Rose.

Nicole said...

I thought it started out great and then petered out a bit when Will Ferrel and Pearl Jam showed up. I'm a Conan fan so his sketches are almost always funny to me, and I think the ones aired last night were good. The Universal backlot tour was typical of what you would see on Late Night, and it's probably where the Conan fans and nonfans split in preference. A mix of silly, along with smart ass remarks that you have to pay attention to hear, is the norm with Conan.

I agree with everyone else who says that more Andy is needed. Hopefully he can show up in skits fairly regularly, if he doesn't feel like sitting on the couch. Last night seemed like he was cheering on Conan more than usual, and probably because he wants his friend to do well. I can only imagine the amount of suits and focus groups Conan has had to endure, and so just getting the show out there will be a lot easier.

Both Letterman and Colbert were gracious enough to wish Conan luck on the show, something which definitely did not happen back in 93 with the competitors at the time. And if someone found Conan to be childish, I don't see that person heading over to Letterman, if only because he invented the goofy skit.

I know they will never risk it, but I would love a return of Norm MacDonald... he would drive the fogeys crazy.

NBC got it wrong in 93, but have rectified their mistake. However, with the Daily Show and Colbert Report being spot on almost every night, it may be too late to catch the Gen Xers who would never watch Leno.

J said...

"Unbelievably childish."Compared with Leno, a bastion of maturity?

J said...

(or what anonymous said)

jim treacher said...

Apparently I was supposed to know that last night was his first show.

LA said...

This was the first I've enjoyed the Tonight Show since Johnny left.

Oh, and the set is FANTASTIC!

James said...

Good, but not great show. I'll definitely be watching because I'm a Conan addict. It just pains me that I'll have to choose between Conan and Colbert now.

On a side note, I'd kill to see some of the old Late Night bits with Andy, like Staring Contest, In the Year 2000, or Conan's Pictures with Max.

Hunter said...

is it just me or does the new set look eerily like the set from Larry Sanders? i also thought it was weird because when i rewatched the Larry sanders show on dvd about 2 yrs ago, i thought that conan was the most similiar talk show host

Anonymous said...

I watched Jay's last show and Conan's first and boy Conan is so much better. Jay is a hack and I was disgusted to see his feature bit Jay-Walking, which is a blatant rip off of what Howard Stern has done his whole career. Conan at least has his own sense of humor and can be original and a little bit edgy.

Alf said...

Craig Ferguson also mentioned Conan's new gig last night, and challenged him to a naked wrestling match.

Alf said...

Oops, Craig challenged Jimmy Fallon, not Conan. Nevermind.

dez said...

i also thought it was weird because when i rewatched the Larry sanders show on dvd about 2 yrs ago, i thought that conan was the most similiar talk show host
I would love to see Conan look at his butt and say, "Do these pants make my a$$ look fat?" :-)

David Z said...

is it just me or does the new set look eerily like the set from Larry Sanders? I thought the same thing when the show started. I was waiting for Andy to give us a "Hey Now!"

David said...

Loved the opening, disliked the tram tour, can't remember anything he said in the Farrell interview. But you know what's always bothered me about Conan? The fact that he delivers every monologue joke in EXACTLY the same way.

1) Straightforward recounting of some news item.
2) The word "yeah."
3) Punchline.

It's that "yeah" that drives me batty.

And I thought the mix on Pearl Jam was dreadful. I'm so happy I switched over to Dave at the last minute and was introduced to Melody Gardot. Wow.

J.Sho said...

(scored, perfectly, to Cheap Trick's "Surrender," a song that automatically makes any montage at least 10% better)

So funny. You had me actually laughing out loud, Alan.

Mark said...

I know they will never risk it, but I would love a return of Norm MacDonald... he would drive the fogeys crazy.

Norm's been booked for next Thursday, June 11!

http://nbcumv.com/release_detail.nbc/entertainment-20090602000000-034thetonightsh.html

Mark said...

I think the fact that the last 10 episodes of Late Night with Conan all featured "Best Of" bits, made some of the episode seem like a bit of a letdown, but the "Circles" chant from the live audience reassured me that at least he has some fans in LA that will love him as much as I do.

And I think they need to work in a bit about Andy as a bad announcer, only to cut with him with a coat full of fuzzy animals.

Anonymous said...

if I hear one more person claim Howard Stern invented the Man on the Street gag, I don't know what I'll do.

Wasn't Steve Allen doing that in like the 50s? He probably ripped it off some radio guy in the 30s who ripped it off some vaudeville act in the teens, who ripped it off John Wilkes Booth in the 1860s.

Kathie said...

I thought he was good......... thought the first segment when he was running across the country to Surrender was a riot. He also gave a nice mention to Jay Leno, which was a classy move