Late Night With Jimmy Fallon reviewed.

What you're watching.
March 3 2009 11:43 AM

Fallon Upward

The new Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is a mutant multimedia experience.

Robert DeNiro and Jimmy Fallon on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Click image to expand.
Robert DeNiro and Jimmy Fallon on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon

David Letterman seemed crankier than usual Monday night on the Late Show (CBS). He resembled in his crankiness a sour Tom Daschle, the important difference between the two being their eyeglasses. (Whereas one's are conservatively stylish, the other's are suitable only for a Danish architect in midlife crisis.) Letterman, despite being but a mere 61, looked as drained as if he'd been working his gig for centuries.

His opening segment seemed wearier yet—almost entirely snowstorm jokes, two of them about the height, or lack thereof, of Michael Bloomberg, another one incoherent. (It was so cold out there that Amy Winehouse's beehive tried to mate with Donald Trump's combover?) As is his wont, Letterman punctuated this lame monologue with acknowledgments of its lameness, but these had no bite. Not even guest Katie Couric could perk up Dave. When she bubbled about the fun she has doing a Web-exclusive version of her newscast, he replied by grouching about Internet tie-ins. His only moments of pleasure came in preparing the audience for U2, which is booked for a five-night stand—a counterpunch in the first round of a new fight on the late shift.

Advertisement

If you are sufficiently mindful of television to have made it to this paragraph, then you know perfectly well that Conan O'Brien will soon take over The Tonight Show and that NBC has given the time slot he, and Letterman before him, inhabited to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (weeknights at 12:35 a.m. ET). Though Fallon—famous from a tenure on Saturday Night Live, infamous for a film career that never achieved liftoff—launched the new show yesterday, he's had something of a soft opening on the Internet, fooling around with video shorts on his Web site. In last Friday's, executive producer Lorne Michaels aimed to quiet Fallon's anxiety about the debut episode: "The worst that can happen is it's very, very bad." The way things turned out, it was no worse than rather bad, and Fallon, if he can quit squirming long enough, should take a modest bow.

My, does he squirm. Fallon's physical presentations of nervousness lent the show its only consistency. After taking the stage and receiving his vigorous applause Dick Cavettishly—"A smart man would leave now"—he wriggled and swayed and shifted his weight from one quaking leg to the other throughout the middling monologue. He settled down for a number called "Slow Jammin' the News" where he and his house band, the Roots, gave the stimulus package the quiet-storm treatment: "Now bring me that little piece of legislation/ Put it on my docket." Fallon delivered a faultless wink somewhere in there. Most at ease coasting on his pretty-boy charisma—which itself depends on his jumpy energy—he seems less a comedian than a charming goofball who sometimes manages to be funny. Fallon's sexy/silly thing—a dialectic, if you want to go there—got projected onto a game-show bit identified as "Lick It for 10," wherein he handed Hamiltons to audience members willing to run their wet tongues across, for instance, a lawnmower.

The first guest was Robert De Niro, playing "Robert De Niro" dutifully, doing nothing to dispel the feeling that his motive for appearing here was to repay Lorne a favor. The second guest was Justin Timberlake, whose best moment lay in reworking Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)" to pay tribute to one of Fallon's sponsors. The product hawked was Bud Light Lime, which I fear I will have to drink someday at a party when it's the only thing left in the fridge. Musical guest Van Morrison was in a hopeful mood. Nothing caught fire.

Evidence suggests that Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is not a normal talk show—or even an abnormal talk show in the self-ironic tradition Letterman pioneered—but a mutant multimedia experience, part chatfest and part reality show. It is an R&D attempt to reinvent the format for the way we live now (as perceived by a network generally agreed to have no idea what it is doing but—anything's possible—may even be on to something). This involves hyperactive interactivity and abundant oversharing. While some of the Web videos are strictly farcical, that on-camera pep talk of Michaels' stands as a jarringly earnest affair highlighting Fallon's vulnerability. Another—I can't bear to know if this was a product placement—captures Fallon going in for laser-eye surgery; the dull first half discovers new levels of moving-image banality, the graphic second half outdoes Un Chien Andalou. When Fallon isn't on Facebook, he's snapping pictures like a tourist in his own life or Twittering like a sincere little schoolboy: "1st show done. I was a bit nervous. But overall really happy. Phew!"

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.