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Spot Inspection: Stewart and Colbert, post-strike

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Some TV writers are finding it tough to get back into a regular groove now that the strike is finally resolved, even with weeks or months until their shows air again. So just imagine how the teams behind The Daily Show and The Colbert Report must have felt on Tuesday night, when they realized they’d have to hit the ground running and whip up a new episode in less than 24 hours! Last night, we got to see the first fruits of their labors. How’d they fare?

The writers’ return was a real godsend for Jon Stewart, who’d been visibly flailing for a while now without anyone to keep him supplied with fresh schtick. Last night, he pulled off his funniest show in many weeks — even better than I remember him being in the dull fall months before the strike, to be honest. His pun-filled opening tribute to his scribes was both cute and clever. (No awkward space-filling pauses in sight!) But the Show really hit its stride with a smart, tightly scripted hatchet job on Sen. Arlen Specter — classic Daily material, and the kind of thing Stewart couldn’t possibly have come up with off the top of his head:

So it went for the rest of the show. Yet a funny thing happened at11:30. Stephen Colbert has been steadily outshining Stewart all throughthe strike, relying on his natural improv charms to keep the funnyflowing. Last night, Stephen opened the Report with a typically genius contextual gag, welcoming each of his writers in person — some grinning dudes, Tiki Barber, Kevin Bacon, Judith Miller, a dozen more scruffy folks, and, uh, Mr. Met:

Silly suits him, all right. But then the whole show went to hell!For some inexplicable reason, Colbert filled the rest of the half hourwith a trio of excruciatingly long, boring interview/on-site segmentsinvolving (no kidding) a guy who eats insects and an extended visit tothe National Air & Space Museum. Nothing scripted? What, no”Word”?! Were these some sort of emergency bottom-of-the-barrel bitshe’d stockpiled during the strike?

For now, I’ll chalk this up to first-night jitters over at the Report.But I can’t help feel weird, realizing that I’m in the unusual positionof hoping my guy Colbert starts measuring up to the standard set byStewart tonight. How about you?