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Conan's first show (again)
November 9, 2010 - Scott Muska
Ever since I've been old enough to stay up late, Conan O'Brien has been my favorite late night television host. I was one of those people who proclaimed that they were part of "Team Coco" during the big dispute between O'Brien and NBC earlier this year. I think I might have even made his picture my Facebook profile picture for a day or two. (Yeah, I was that guy.) I've never been much of a Jay Leno fan, either. I desperately want O'Brien to be successful with his new show, aptly titled "Conan" (a title he said he chose because it would make him "harder to replace"), on TBS. So, I'll be the first to admit that I'm biased, but also that I was expecting a lot from his first show on Monday night. If I'm going to spend an hour of my valuable downtime watching a TV show when I could be doing things like building a fort or hanging Christmas lights in my apartment, it had better be good. I don't care who you are. And that goes for you, too, whoever is writing this season of "How I Met Your Mother."
He didn't disappoint. O'brien picked up right where he left off with his final show in January. He continued to rip NBC to shreds without mentioning Jay Leno once. He also told lots of jokes that were full of the self-deprecating attitude he's had since he began doing late night that has escalated significantly since he was essentially chased out of his position at NBC. This extended into the number of jokes he made about the lower-budget, less glamorous world of basic cable. (Some might think this is tactless, but he's now working for a station that consists pretty much of stuff done by George Lopez and Tyler Perry, along with some of TV's worst original series. To me, the best part about TBS other than O'Brien is the syndicated reruns of now-defunct series that it shows.)
O'Brien's brand of humor makes you sometimes believe he actually despises himself, which is one of his most endearing comedic traits. He pokes fun at his own sense of self-importance (sometimes it is too high, sometimes it is too low), something you never see Leno or Letterman doing, even though one frequently wears denim shirts and the other recently got in trouble for extramarital snogging of employees while on the clock. O'brien doesn't seem like a normal person at all (he's never outgrown his goofyness, thank God), but some of his tendencies make him more relatable to a typical person than most of his competition does. Jimmy Kimmel and possibly Jimmy Fallon are notable exclusions, but both are much less entertaining than O'Brien.
His opening monologue was pretty good, and didn't show any signs of nervousness. I know he has been doing late night for years, but last night's show was probably the most pressure he's felt coming into a show since his first one in 1993. He told one joke that I particularly liked, one in which he combined something from all of the "biggest" news stories that had transpired since his last time on air. The only problem I'll have is if he continues to make all of his jokes about the past, like he did last night. I think he definitely deserved to take one monologue to stick it to NBC, but he now needs to move on by pulling off monologues and skits that are simply funnier than Leno's. The best way to do this is by riffing on the same current events.
When O'Brien was going through his whole ordeal, the most uproar came from the younger crowd, where apparently most of his fans lie. He made his awareness of this obvious with his line-up of guests for the first show. The line-up also showed that O'Brien has more control now than he did with his other shows. He picked Seth Rogen as his first guest, probably because he knew he'd be a funnier interview than most (sadly, even Will Ferrell, who was his first interview when he took over "The Tonight Show," has become less of a commodity in the eyes of the younger crowd), even if he doesn't have a film coming out until January and hasn't really done much recently. Rogen himself even said, "I'm so glad everyone more famous was too busy to be here," but then gave a pretty hilarious interview. He swore twice within 30 seconds of sitting down ("It's OK, we're on cable," O'Brien said) and then told the audience two stories. One was about proposing to his fiancee when she was in the buff. The other was about his acquisition of a California medical marijuana card. Both pushed the envelope, something younger people seem to enjoy, and something O'Brien is going to be able to do a lot more now that he has more control over his show. He'll have to find more stripped-down ways to do it, since I imagine that his budget is significantly smaller than it used to be, but this might not be a bad thing.
After Rogen, he broughtt out Lea Michele, one of the stars of "Glee," a show I make no apologies for seriously enjoying. This was a good move, because she's not somebody you would think of on the level of stardom that someone like Angelina Jolie is on, but she's very popular among the younger crowd and is more than easy on the eyes. This part of the show wasn't the most entertaining, but it still wasn't bad, either. O'Brien squeezed in another "basic cable" joke during this interview, when an unexpected noise came from backstage. He disregarded it quickly by telling Michele they'd rented out a space directly next to a Meineke.
The last guest, O'brien's first musical performer, was a big surprise to me. When he announced that Jack White (White Stripes, The Raconteurs, Dead Weather and all kinds of other stuff) would be on, he got the loudest ovation from the crowd of any of the guests, and some dude even bellowed out a loud "Yeahhhhh." This further affirmed that O'Brien is in tune with the younger people who were probably watching. If my Mom had been sitting there watching with me, she would have asked me who that dude that looks disturbingly like Johnny Depp if he'd been awake for 48 straight hours was. White is one of my favorite musicians, which sadly means lots of people don't know who he is beyond the song "Seven Nation Army." I respect that O'Brien made that move, instead of bringing in someone more poppy. What made it even better was the fact that O'Brien actually played a song with White. He played guitar, too, and moved around like a less-coordinated, red-headed Elvis.
Even with all the younger crowd stuff, he still made sure there was something for everybody. In the first two minutes, he had cameos by Jon Hamm (Don Draper from "Mad Men") and Larry King. All you have to say to my mom is "Jon Hamm" and she'll watch.
I thought it was a very good debut, and hope the show stays strong. The part I disliked the most was after the show ended and "Lopez Tonight" started. George Lopez actually had the gall to call O'Brien his "opening act." Then he said something about a combination of "Team Coco" and "Team Loco."
I turned it off after that.