Peter Kramer/NBC
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March 20, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

While The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is best when its host is not behind a desk, the opposite is true of Late Night With Seth Meyers. In his first week, the very smart, very smiley former Saturday Night Live head writer gave stiff monologue, which was basically his ”Weekend Update” newsreader shtick, delivered in his shouty, wiseassy, talk-to-the-camera manner, but standing up; he improved the more he connected with the studio audience. He rolls when sitting down. Meyers seems capable of creating chemistry and having quality chats with anyone, from riding the wild waves of Kanye West to spinning a funny anecdote with pal Brad Paisley about accidentally stealing a Porsche. A talk-show host good at talking? Fancy that.

Meyers, 40, digs post-Letterman absurdity and irony. He is also keenly aware of being watched and judged. So far, so sly. Night 2 had dissatisfied audience member Heckler Greg denouncing Meyers for betraying constituents who like it edgy (”How did your show get so safe so fast?!”), only to be shouted down by another Greg complaining about Meyers’ meta high jinks. The two were trumped by Sarah, a black woman, who called out late-night’s biggest problem beyond its overwhelming sameness: It has been, and mostly remains, as pale as moonlight.

Like Fallon, Meyers impresses by unapologetically playing to his strengths. He’s never going to be as dynamic a performer as Fallon, and at present I have a hard time seeing him ever graduating to 11:30. Both seem intent on reinventing their franchises as new-era variety shows, Fallon more so than Meyers. But right now only Late Night, growing pains aside, feels like a cohesive show with a real point of view, and not just a nightly petri dish for tomorrow’s embeddable viral videos. Both are worth watching — the next morning. But with time and maturity, both might be worth staying up late for. B+

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