Welcome to the inaugural edition of my Pop Culture Club, in which every week we’ll meet in PopWatch and dissect, critique, or just generally mock a movie, TV show, or DVD. I’ll be on the boards, and look forward to our back and forth. And, time permitting, our to and fro.
Our first assignment was Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. As I mentioned previously, I haven’t seen this show since its first week, when it was rusty and awkward, as all new talk shows are in their opening days. It wouldn’t have been fair to judge it then. But now it’s a few months later, and JIMMY FALLON, WE JUDGE THEE!
I’ve had a deep love for late night TV ever since discovering David Letterman in high school in 1986, and then taping his show every night and gorging on them over the weekends. But now, with so many talk shows big and small on so many different networks, and comedy having evolved long past the desk-bit “Look what crazy stuff I found in a newspaper!” staples, I find it hard to care when a new host arrives. It’s not that Fallon is supremely bad at his job, he’s just gotten involved with a format that nobody’s clamoring for anymore. He’s like a new and improved Atari 2600. Or a network news anchor.
Fallon seems to (subconsciously or not) know that. As he stands before his reflexive curtain, telling monologue jokes that are passable, but interchangeable from anyone else’s, he occasionally laughs and looks off to his Dan Aykroyd-doppelganger sidekick Steve Higgins, as if to say, “I know, can you believe we’re still doing this?” It’s the same expression I’d make if somebody ordered me on stage and forced me to do ventriloquism.
Late night comedy was constructed by Steve Allen and Johnny Carson,deconstructed by Letterman, and then meta-deconstructed by Conan O’Brien.There’s nothing left to reinvent, unless you just come out and kill theguests. Fallon’s desk pieces, like “real animals with fake arms,” arelike deleted scenes you’d find on an old Conan DVD. And as aninterviewer, Fallon is genial, but it’s difficult to figure out what hereally cares about. On Monday he kept going on about how great SusanSarandon’s play Exit the King was, but you just know that he wasplaying Brickbreaker on his BlackBerry by act 2.
(He does care about one thing — Saturday Night Live — and he needsto stop caring so much. When he had Andy Samberg on on Tuesday, andthey kept name-dropping SNL writers and referred to ex-cast memberChris Parnell as “Parnsy,” it was as alienating as attending someoneelse’s high school reunion.)
The thing is, I find Fallon likable. He just doesn’t fill out hisstudio. His low key, silly sense of humor would do well in a tiny,informal space. Does anyone remember the talk show Night After Night With Allan Havey, from Comedy Central’s early days? Havey, a comedian,sat in a dark studio, talking and joking to the camera and then his oneguest: There was no braying crowd, just an “audience of one,” adifferent fan every night who would sit alone in an empty bleacher.That informal, intimate, hear-the-crew-guys-snicker feel then went onto work for Talk Soup, and I think it would work for Fallon. He’s 34,but seems like a perma-college student (getting his honorary doctoratein Monday’s remote, he seemed far more comfortable with the studentsthan any of the administration). Watching an intimate show makes youfeel like you’re in on something, and a young audience would get off onfeeling like they were hanging out with Jimmy in his basement, ratherthan seeing him dressed up in old Conan hand-me-downs and acting fartoo psyched that Randy Jackson stopped by. Really, once you seem hoppedup by the impending presence of Randy Jackson, you’ve lost allcredibility.
Okay, enough of my blathering. What do you think of his show? Wheredo you think he ranks among the other talk show hosts, past andpresent? And what should I have for lunch? All pressing questions.
Before I throw open the boards, I have to present next week’sassignment: Let’s watch Glee, the new campy musical comedy series abouta high school show chorus. (It’s on Tuesday, May 19, at 9 p.m. on Fox,right after the American Idol finale.) If you like jazz hands, you’lllove this show! And if you hate jazz hands, you’ll love making fun ofit. Also, I really want to hear about the kinds of things you think weshould be watching in future weeks: New movies? Old movies on DVD?Premiering or existing shows? Crap or supercrap? This is ademocracy…albeit a democracy with a really strict profanity filter.