Is Jimmy Fallon Currently the Best Late Night Talk Show Host?

If you take Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert out of the equation, then the answer to the above question is probably yes. Over on the the AV Club, ahead of Jimmy Fallon’s third-year anniversary, Steven Hyden has come around to what I’ve been saying elsewhere since Fallon became the only network talk show host to come out of the Leno/Conan controversy unscathed.

Fallon’s transformation from widely derided lightweight—a man assumed to have secret knowledge of where Lorne Michaels keeps the bodies buried in order to continue getting such good jobs—to heir apparent to the King Of Late Night crown is complete and shocking. Jimmy Fallon is now so likeable that it’s actually a cliché to point out how likeable he is. Not only has he become the opposite of what he used to be, he’s made thinking otherwise seem mean-spirited. He is the puppy-basket of late-night talk-show hosts.

Hyden continues on to say that Fallon “has the brightest future of any late-night host.” I don’t disagree. As someone who grew up on Dave, disliked Fallon on “SNL” and hated his short-lived movie career, it took me a while to warm up to him, but now if I bother to watch any of the late night network talk shows at all, it’s always Fallon.

Here’s the thing: If Dave and Leno are cut from the same cloth as Johnny Carson, most of the rest of them are clearly molded after Dave — Conan’s more eggheaded, Ferguson is more acerbic, and Kimmell is more meat-headed, but they all seem to have a similar self-deprecating, mainstream “edgy” approach. Their shows are all nearly identical. They simply put their own spin and personality on the same format that has been in the works for 50 years: Monologue, segment, personal anecdote, interviews, musical guest, credits.

While Fallon has borrowed a lot of those elements, he’s put a strangely refreshing post-irony spin on them. He’s amiable and awkwardly charming in the way that the way the others are not. He tries new things, some of which fail, some of which succeed. But he’s not trotting out the same gimmicks to the point of tiresomeness. The guy plays board games with his guests for God’s sake.

What’s most refreshing, however, is his lack of irony. He’s not sarcastic. He’s not mean-spirited. He doesn’t put others down, and as much as I love Letterman, his brand of crankiness does not jibe with our current cultural landscape. I don’t want a bitter old coot railing about the problems of a monkey on a rock. At that time of night, I want a guy who looks like he’s having a good time, and Fallon’s good-natured, goofball spirit is infectious. He is, as Hyden describes him, “the puppy-basket of late-night talk-show hosts.”

It doesn’t hurt, either, that he has the best house band on TV in The Roots. Moreover, nothing on network late night TV has topped this in the last five years (except maybe Stephen Colbert’s rendition of “Friday,” also on Fallon’s show).

(Source: AV Club)