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Late Night With Jimmy Fallon: Ground Zero

So, that happened.

If you followed along with our Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Drinking Game, you would be very drunk right now! He did almost all of the things! Except for touching his carefully mussed hair. That was my bad. Obviously, his hair is more conservative in his old age. He’s traded the youthful Bedhead Hairstick for some understated Kiehl’s Buttermilk Defrizzing Conditioner. No touching!

In any case, the show had its ups and downs. Let’s talk about them.

The show opened in Jimmy Fallon’s dressing room, where Conan was still packing boxes. It was a funny hand-off, and a really smart choice, although Conan was obviously the star of the sketch. But so far so good. Show respect to the elder Gods.

The theme song is pretty good. All in all The Roots are just crushing it as a house band. However Jimmy Fallon managed to pull that off, hats. The whole opening sequence feels smart and young and vibrant. Actually, the whole opening sequence feels like the credits to Saturday Night Live. It has that same blocky text and blurry city nightscape. But the Saturday Night Live opening credits are great, so, yeah.

Then the monologue. Woof. To be fair, monologues are uniformly bad. It’s an outdated medium. By the time a late night monologue airs, most of those jokes have been made on Bruce Villanch’s Twitter. But in this case it wasn’t the jokes. Those were fine. It was Jimmy’s fidgeting, wide-grin delivery. He seemed so nervous. To be fair, at a certain point you remember: OF COURSE HE’S NERVOUS. It’s the first episode of his nationally syndicated talk show, and he’s standing all alone in front of a basically flat background, telling monologue jokes. As a viewer, it is uncomfortable. But as Jimmy Fallon it’s probably more uncomfortable. So we will give him the benefit of the doubt today. Won’t we? Just for today. But yikes.

He ends the monologue with “Slow Jammin’ the News,” which is probably the highlight of the entire show. It takes full advantage of The Roots, which, again, this show should basically be called Late Night with The Roots, because of how they kill it. It’s like I’m in college and pretending to understand black culture via non-threatening suburban rap all over again! The potential problem with a bit like this is it’s not going to be that funny the second or third time. They’re going to have to keep imagining new ways to remind people how incredible it is that The Roots are even there in the first place.

The Target Demographic: White Moms video was funny even if it didn’t go over that well with the audience. It had AD Miles written all over it.

The Letterman-esque game Lick for 10 in which audience members were brought down to lick an object for 10 dollars was mostly surprising because of how quickly Late Night jumped on the surreptitious contextual advertising space train. Granted, as Vulture points out this morning, “Printy Scan” and “Grassy Boy” aren’t real companies, but is that the show having fun with marketers, or is that the show not having marketers lined up? Besides, half an hour later they had Justin Timberlake being Michael McDonald for Miller Chill Lime or some shit, so in any case that space train has definitely left the space station. In any case, we did get to see what the real life Kenneth The Page looks like.

And finally: the interviews.

Huh.

Robert DeNiro was a weird choice. He was taciturn and old and his insistence that he didn’t like to talk very much reminded me of when he got arrested for allegedly running a French prostitution ring. Fallon said that he figured he’d start his first show with the toughest interview he could think of, which is a prison mentality I can respect. When I am inevitably sentenced to hard labor, I’m going to walk into the cafeteria and pick the toughest Medea I can find, and beat him to within an inch of his life to teach the other cons not to mess with me. But Robert DeNiro isn’t just a tough interview, he’s an irrelevant one. He looked like Uncle Junior. But at least Uncle Junior was interesting.

The sketch that they did for an unreleased movie called Space Train still made me laugh, which shows you the power of hiring good writers, even if Jimmy did hark back to his SNL days with his inability to keep a straight face for ONE LINE OF DIALOGUE.

But where Jimmy’s interview with DeNiro was rough and stilted, his interview with Justin Timberlake was just a mistake. There is nothing that burns more good will more quickly than hearing two celebrities talk about how much fun they have hanging out together off the air. I could care less about what great buds these two are. It doesn’t make them more human, it makes them more celebrities, which I already knew that they were, and which is the least interesting thing about them. Justin Timberlake did a bunch of self-indulgent singing riffs, which elicited peals of female squealing from the audience, but which left me dead inside. And I LIKE Justin Timberlake. Pause. I think he’s good at singing and makes great radio music, even if he did just totally luck out because if dude wasn’t famous he’d be a total jazz band nerd wearing white suspenders over a black button down shirt with a piano scarf tossed jauntily over his shoulder. But enough, boys. Enough. Jerk each other off on your own time.

In the end, it seems like the test of this show is going to be if Jimmy Fallon can grow into it. As I mentioned yesterday, he’s made so many smart choices in putting this thing together. The Roots and the writing staff are incredible. Even the set is nice. But for the time being, Jimmy doesn’t seem to know what to do with all of these treasures. He’s like Artie Ziff showing up to the reunion in a helicopter. That’s a super cool helicopter, but he’s still Artie Ziff. For now.

If you missed it, you can watch the whole show here: