It is humanly impossible to be excited by the idea of a new talk show. When's the last time you sat through an entire talk show monologue? Was it recently? If so, then why? What did you hope to achieve by hearing three jokes about current events? Don't you understand that the internet will compile any worthwhile talk show clips for you in the morning? Come on. Grow up.
Luckily, James Corden seemed very aware of boring talk show tropes during his “Late Late Show” debut and did his best to circumvent them. The Tony-winning actor served up a modest but promising first show with the help of guests Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis, who were brilliant and utterly boring (respectively). Kunis spent what seemed like a fortnight on Corden's couch discussing her jewelry designs. Almost bravely dull.
To Corden's credit, there were practically no other lowlights to his debut. Here are five things that excited us about his first outing on CBS.
1. His un-painfully earnest monologue.
I assume Corden's monologue will be a bit more traditional in the weeks to come, but he opened the show by standing in front of a close audience and simply introducing himself. He has kids! He's from an unknowable British town! His parents are in the audience! Look at them. They're crying. The monologue set an intimate tone that's most comparable to, yes, Craig Ferguson's style. And good for James! It makes the at-home audience's transition that much more bearable.
2. A pleasant sketch featuring dynamite cameos.
At first I thought this pre-recorded sketch about Corden winning a Golden Ticket to host the show seemed staid, but then I realized it was an opportunity to show off celeb credibility. Everyone from Chris Rock, Joel McHale, and Billy Crystal to Lena Dunham, Eddie Redmayne, and Simon Cowell made appearances as disappointed candidates who didn't find tickets in their Wonka bars. This felt like an especially trenchant sketch on the day of Ted Cruz's announcement about his presidential campaign considering he is, in fact, Veruca Salt's dad.
3. Then there was that other star-studded sketch!
Corden armed himself with fabulous mentors to get him in shape to host his show. Not only did Allison Janney and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear, but Meryl Streep showed up and introduced herself as “19-time Academy Award nominee Meryl Streep.” It is life-affirming to hear her recite her own Wiki stats. But best of all: Jay Leno arrived and played “Whiplash” with Corden, slapping him and asking, “Are you dragging or are you rushing?” as he coached the newbie. I will admit now that I find Jay Leno charming and self-deprecating and kind of awesome as a sympathetic elder statesman. He should be the head judge on “Last Comic Standing.” In fact, that is his destiny.
4. A brand new way of conversing with guests
I was blown away to see Corden introducing Hanks and Kunis simultaneously. They appeared, sat on a couch, and all chatted with each other. Is this an improvement upon the familiar one-guest-at-a-time technique? Maybe or maybe not, but more importantly, it creates a hangout vibe that stodgier talk shows should emulate.
5. An unbelievable gag to rival Jimmy Fallon's best moments.
Tom Hanks appeared to be spitballing during his sit-down with Corden and Kunis, but he erupted ingeniously during a green-screen sketch in which he and Corden revisited nearly every huge hit in his career for five-second reenactments. He didn't just summon up “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan.” “The Money Pit” came up. “Joe vs. the Volcano” came up. “Larry Crowne,” “The Polar Express,” “The Burbs,” and effing “Cloud Atlas” were there too. They stopped just short of including “Punchline” and “Volunteers,” which I've decided is fine.
6. A nod to the most ingenious “TRL” innovation: the photo booth
Hanks and Kunis posted photo booth pics to an empty backstage wall. Makes me long for the days of Mariah Carey, Mandy Moore, and Evan and Jaron appearing on “TRL” for booth selfies.
7. The quietest and best moment of the night: a lullaby finale
Did I mention Corden has serious musical talent? He crooned a funny ditty inviting folks to stick with “The Late Late Show,” and his Pooh Bear eyes beamed like Kunis' signature emeralds. All right, Corden. You're quaint enough to be endearing and slyly inventive enough to be interesting. I'm in.