Image Credit: Meghan Sinclair/Conaco LLCIt was nice, Tuesday night, to see Conan O’Brien — and his beard — back on the air for a second night in a row, the signal that he’s returned to late-night for the long haul. What I’m looking forward to even more, though, is a time when he dispenses with the self-referential humor about losing his NBC gig and coming to basic cable. I get that he needs to address it at the beginning — it was a huge news story, and there is certainly humor to be found in it — and I know that late-night hosts honor a long tradition of sticking it to their home networks, no matter which one they’re on. But the lengthy, dead-weight bit wherein he visited the Standards and Practices guy — which seemed like it was going to be so much fun when he introduced it by saying he wanted to find out what he can get away with on the air — made me wish he’d just move on.

To wit, things perked up when he addressed more topical humor. The jokes weren’t mind-blowing (on Apple’s new store in China: “Apple says this is an exciting opportunity to sell iPods to the very kids who make them”), but it was a refreshing change to see Conan back in regularly scheduled action. As my colleague Ken Tucker noted of Conan’s debut episode Monday night, he seems best, at this point, when he moves past the NBC debacle and its aftermath. For the record, though, Tom Hanks did score the best line of the night when he addressed Conan’s ouster. After Conan accused Hanks of perpetuating his now widely used nickname, “Coco,” Hanks quipped, “Finally, he’ll blame something on someone other than Jay.”

Hanks was also, incidentally, quite the sport while getting drenched with real water from a fake whale’s splash:

All in all, still great to see Conan back, and the show was at least as good a time as any late-night show with a long and vaunted history. It’ll get even better once he settles into his new digs and forgets about that whole “basic cable” distinction. What did you think of Conan’s second show, PopWatchers?

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