We gave it a B+
Whether he’s giving us the latest edition of ”Steven Tyler’s Creepy Leer of the Night” or putting naughty words in the mouths of media innocents in his ”This Week in Unnecessary Censorship” bit, Jimmy Kimmel has become one of late-night’s most reliable mirth makers — for a generation to whom the term ”mirth maker” seems as old as Dick Cavett.
Kimmel, like Cavett, has hosted his show on ABC, which means he’s a perennial also-ran in the ratings, well behind NBC’s The Tonight Show. And like Cavett’s show (whose run was 1969?75), Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which took a post-Nightline slot starting in 2003, uses his underdog status as a path to creative freedom. Kimmel comes off like a big, genial goofball. Despite his natty suits, he always looks as if he’s just shoplifted a few bags of russet potatoes. Yet he’s wily, open-minded, and inventive.
What do I mean by open-minded? Kimmel is probably the only late-night host who’s interviewed Kim Kardashian and not spoken to her as though she’s merely a lucky no-talent — he wants to figure out why a no-talent got this lucky. A Lost fanatic, he’s also not embarrassed to let you know he keeps tabs on The Bachelor and American Idol. He mocks them, sure, but his ad-lib asides make it clear he’s not just using his cleverly edited clips as ratings juice; he’s invested in figuring out the appeal of such pop phenomena. In his interview segments, he really listens; like with Craig Ferguson, you never get the feeling Kimmel is reading off his staff’s list of questions. And, intriguingly, this former cohost of The Man Show fares better with female guests.
Kimmel is nearly always a happy surprise these days, a twit for the Twitter age — he plays dumb, and you think, ”That’s smart!” B+