I think we can all agree that Jimmy Fallon has proven himself a more than worthy successor for “The Tonight Show” hosting gig. I’m sure someone misses Jay Leno, but I haven’t met that person yet (hey, maybe he or she will show up in the comments! Represent!). Everyone else, though, seems to agree that Fallon is more fun, more creative and yes, more likable than Leno, who had seemed to be phoning it in for quite a few of his 22 years in the gig.
But being more appealing than Leno only gives Fallon a boost this week. Ultimately, living up to the hype over his move to a cozier time slot might be the toughest part of the gig. The good news is this week has been more than solid — but not without a few bumps in the road.
Great: Fallon ended the ban on Joan Rivers No matter how you feel about Joan Rivers, the idea that her decision to take on her own talk show without giving Johnny Carson a heads-up resulted in a 30 year ban is pretty extreme punishment. While Carson had his own reasons for holding a grudge, the idea that Jay Leno stuck to it (a strange loyalty given that Carson wanted Letterman, not Leno, to get the gig after he retired) doesn’t say great things about Leno. O’Brien really wasn’t at the job long enough to think about Rivers, but Fallon made a bold decision by inviting her to pop out, if only for an instant, on his very first show. The crowd went wild, but more importantly, it sent a message — this is a new era for “The Tonight Show,” it’s Jimmy Fallon’s show, and he isn’t carrying on someone else’s petty grudge for any reason. Win, win, win.
Not Great: That intro Before the show actually began, Fallon took some time to to introduce himself. He gave a shout out to previous hosts (classy move), his parents, The Roots, his wife, his kid, the four-leaf clover on the floor… yes, it was heartfelt, but it started to drag, especially after the humble brag about how he never, ever thought he’d have this gig — gosh, he never thought he’d graduate high school! Part of Fallon’s charm is in how much fun he seems to be having, whether it’s talking to a big star or pulling them into a loopy skit. Stopping to ponder the meaning of it all felt a tad solipsistic, despite the shout-outs. Yes, this gig is a big deal, but as Ken Tucker wrote, it means more to the guy doing it than it does to an audience that just wants to watch some TV before going to bed.
Great: The $100 joke Speaking of that moment with Rivers, it was all part of a pretty great segment that gave Fallon a chance to prove to us he’s a draw for big name talent without hitting us over the head with that fact. As part of a joke in which he invited the “buddy” who bet he’d host “The Tonight Show” to pay up, Rivers along with Robert DeNiro, Tina Fey, Joe Namath, Rudy Giuliani, Mariah Carey, Tracy Morgan, Kim Kardashian, Seth Rogen, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert (who paid him in pennies before announcing, “Welcome to 11:30, bitch!”) all dropped hundred dollar bills on his desk. It was a great, rolling reveal that must have been a scheduling nightmare, but was well worth it.
Great: More skits, fewer plugs One of the elements that made Leno’s approach to the show feel so pat was that the comedy was largely restricted to the monologue and some goofy sketches at the opening, while talent was invited to sit down, tell an obviously canned story, then plug a project. Fallon clearly has no patience for that tried but tired approach. When Will Smith appeared on the show, he first joined Fallon for an “evolution of hip-hop dancing” routine. Bradley Cooper? Charades. FLOTUS? She sat down with Fallon and Will Ferrell (the two men dressed as teenage girls) to determine which foods were “ew.” Not everyone who eventually did sit across from Fallon’s desk plugged anything, or if they did, it was a pretty passing mention (hey, Bradley Cooper, how about them Oscars?). It’s a lot more fun to watch celebrities do something unexpected, even if it doesn’t entirely work.
Not Great: Throwing out the script doesn’t always work When Fallon asked Bono to make a speech to his coffee mug, the rocker said, “That’s not nice,” before gamely making a go of it. It wasn’t a disaster, but Fallon seemed nervous before the conversation got back on track (and wrapped up the segment with an acoustic performance of “Ordinary Love”). Conversely, Fallon might have been too relaxed with Kristen Wiig, whom he talked into appearing “in character” as One Direction member Harry Styles. While Wiig and Fallon obviously had fun, Wiig is funnier than this aimless joke.
Great and Not Great: Questlove is great, but not every member of The Roots is Questlove No one could argue that Questlove doesn’t have sharp comic timing and a great presence. Watching Questlove and Tariq reenact a scene from “The Bachelor”? Gold. Sadly, Mark Kelley isn’t quite as natural in front of the camera. When Kelley and Olympic gold medal snowboarder Jamie Anderson were recruited for a short skit, it was pretty obvious they should stick to their day jobs.
Great: The music rocks U2 on the roof? Arcade Fire jumping into the audience, Lady Gaga on the piano? There’s clearly an effort here to make sure musical guests aren’t just dumped into a dark corner to perform.
Not Great: Being a fan is great, but not when it overrides logic Sure, Jerry Seinfeld is a legend, but giving him almost five minutes to riff on texting and the Postal Service, then inviting him to chat on the couch? I’m sure Fallon wanted to pay homage to a comic’s comic and gush over how much he likes “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” (which is, admittedly, pretty awesome — and one of the times a clip would not be totally gratuitous, given that not everyone has discovered it), but I’m thinking the audience would have been more interested in seeing Wiig do something beyond her Harry Styles impression or perhaps see Lady Gaga sit down with Fallon.
On the whole, Fallon hit it out of the park this week — and we haven’t even had a performance on kiddy instruments yet. Sorry, Leno.
What did you think of Fallon’s first week?