R.I.P. The Tonight Show

Obviously, there were plenty of expectations going into last night’s episode of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. People were already upset by the simple fact of the show’s existence, as it was a painful* reminder of the Late Night Wars of just a few short month(s) ago. To many people, the firing of Conan O’Brien**, and the petulant crybaby “triumph” of Jay Leno was genuinely disheartening, and bewildering. Was a failing network in desperate need for an injection of fresh ideas seriously going to bank their future on a 60-year-old antique car enthusiast with a denim fetish? And Jay Leno’s impossibly obnoxious on-air promos did not help. You should get back to where you once belonged, Jay Leno, which is JAIL. But, so, some people (could have been anyone really, there’s no point in naming names) went into last night’s episode already expecting to dislike it. But even for these anti-Jay Leno mouth-foamers, it would have been impossible to anticipate just how bad this thing would be. It was surprising! What a dismal and depressing failure in American Entertainment. And what a sad and lonely death for the Tonight Show.

Before getting to the “new” set, the show opened with a pre-taped segment in which Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks and pals did a Wizard of Oz parody (timely!) about Jay Leno returning “home” after a long nightmare. Perfect. It was stupid and worn out and insulting and arrogant, and it also included a guest cameo by Betty White (making jokes about NBC cutting Jay’s budget, because he is RAW CLASS). Ouch. I mean, I don’t really care about Betty White either way, but that is actually a clever smack in the face to the Internet by Jay. I CAN HAZ UR HEROES. To be honest, I don’t understand the recent surge in Betty White popularity. She seems fine? She seems like a very nice lady? But I have a feeling all of her ironic grassroots Facebook groups lost a few followers last night. If it’s even possible for an 87-year-old to sell out, then she just did. The world is at war, Betty White, and you have chosen your side. It is the side of the old, and it will lose. This I promise. Because it always does.

But for now: the show begins.

So, Jay Leno comes out, and the “new” Tonight Show set is just a gussied up The Jay Leno Show set. WHOOOOOOPS. Now, just to remind people of the failed The Jay Leno Show experiment, this was NBC’s revolutionary attempt to remain competitive in the 10PM time slot against the other major networks for the daily cost of a sleeve of Lender’s frozen raisin bagels. I mean, the main focus of the Jay Leno Show was to save money. So the set is a low rent garbage disaster. It looks like Jay Leno walked into a dollar store and said “I’ll buy the whole store,” and the owner was like, “you don’t have enough money to do that. Here are some AAA batteries and a bouquet of silk flowers.” It’s basically Cutty’s Gym from The Wire, if Cutty was trying to keep kids out the game by teaching them how to do terribly unfunny interview segments. What I’m trying to say is that The Jay Leno Show was littered with problems from the very beginning, and the time slot was THE LEAST OF THE SHOW’S PROBLEMS. Hauling a failure back an hour and a half and putting a potted plant in the corner doesn’t hide the obvious fact that it is a failure.

And why didn’t you tell me that your boyfriend got tickets?

There’s not a lot of point to ripping into Jay Leno’s monologue, since monologues themselves are an unappealing, arcane structure for delivering jokes, and Jay Leno’s monologue is the arcanest and unappealinget of them all. But it is worth noting that he made jokes about Russia, Alan Greenspan being boring, and the presidency of George W. Bush, because his finger is almost TOO on the pulse. And then, on his first night back as the host of the Tonight Show, one of the most venerated programs in the history of American broadcasting and comedy, Jay Leno introduced a new segment:

WOOOOOOF. It’s true that the pants were very tight, I guess? It could have been worse, it could have been The Beer Pong Play of the Week. But this is the thing that gets me about Jay Leno: he has had 17+ years to do SOMETHING with his show, and it’s just nothing. There is nothing there. Jaywalking? Right. Because he invented “man on the street” jokes. That is the most ancient shit! Funny headlines? Seriously, he has not invented one original or interesting comedic premise. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which celebrated its one year anniversary last night, has created more unique premises in its very short time on the air than Jay Leno has in his historically long time on the air. “Let Us Play with Your Look.” 7th Floor West. “Slow Jamming the News.” Lots of great stuff. And that is coming from someone who was very (very) critical of Jimmy Fallon when he was announced for the job, and still thinks there are lots of ways in which the show can grow and improve, but the point is that in one short year he (and his incredibly talented writing staff) has ESTABLISHED himself with a strong comedic voice in late night television. Jay Leno is just a high-pitched whine.

Ugh, and then came the fucking desk. Jay Leno needs a new desk! Because he got rid of the desk for The Jay Leno Show and that is why it failed (he tells himself). America loves desks! So he did a segment in which he went around to normal Americans’ homes looking at their desks and making fun of their dietary habits. He teased one mom for feeding her children KFC. Cool! What a cool guy. Very funny, very nice, very smart, and VERY cool. The segment included cameos by Adam Corolla and Randy Jackson. CAN YOU IMAGINE? Having Randy Jackson and Jay Leno in your house at the same time? You’d probably die from excitement because it would just be TOO neat.

Finally, Jay decided on a desk, and it is seriously a stupid piece of shit.

Seriously! I’m not just lashing out at the desk because of how much I hate this show and its host. That is seriously a piece of crap desk. That is the type of desk that someone has in their house because their son made it when he was in juvenile detention and it’s a symbol of how hard he has worked to be a member of the family again. Yuck. And do you see what I am saying about this set? With, like, those bullshit gears in the background? WHAT ARE THOSE? This show looks like it was filmed in the lobby of a hotel that you were forced to stay in for a boring work trip because every other hotel in town was overbooked due to a Plumbing Industry Conference. “What is your earliest check out time?”

Jay Leno’s very first guest in his triumphant and all-important return to the hallowed and storied Tonight Show is…Jamie Foxx.

This was the best you could do? A human nightmare with no particular project to even promote, who had the nerve on last night’s show to happily announce that his daughter was turning 16 when just a few short months ago he told 16-year-old Miley Cyrus to get gum-reduction surgery and try heroin on his satellite radio show? Fuck him. And fuck you, Jay Leno. His second guest was Lindsey Vonn, whose husband is also her trainer, so you can just imagine the type of humorous GOLD that Jay Leno was able to mine from that relationship. He is a comedian second, but a gentleman first. Just kidding. Jay Leno is an asshole.

His guest tonight, of course, is Sarah Palin. SHUT IT DOWN. SHUT IT ALL DOWN.

Goodbye, the Tonight Show! I mean, seriously, it’s obviously over. Between your junkyard set and your smug-as-fuuuuuuck host and your sinking ship vibe (survivors and all), even if you take back the late night ratings from David Letterman, which I have every reason to believe you might, Brawndo does, after all, have the electrolytes our bodies crave, it won’t REALLY matter. I mean, honestly, television ratings? Those are the new fossil record. Last night’s depressing and disheartening episode of The Tonight Show had the stink of DEATH on it.

So let’s bury it.

*Look, yes, we all know that Conan O’Brien’s firing from the Tonight Show was a trifle in the realm of Genuine Human Suffering. There are places in the world where people need to walk over buried and forgotten minefields in order to access clean drinking water. We all know this. But at the same time, for enthusiastic consumers of pop culture like myself, and like, I am assuming, many of you, there was actually some form of “pain” in this whole thing. It suggested a sad and stupid world with its priorities in all the wrong places. Not that we didn’t already know this, since you’d think CLEANING UP ALL THOSE LAND MINES would be one of those priorities, but you get my point.
**My only regret throughout this whole thing is that I could not follow Conan’s inspiring call to not be cynical. I’m sorry that I have failed you, Conan O’Brien. But I AM VERY CYNICAL ABOUT THIS. It’s especially hard when even your wonderful speech from your final episode has been SCRUBBED FROM THE INTERNET by the Mensas at NBC.