Lloyd Bishop/NBC
March 26, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Need A Tonight Show host who will tuck you in at night? Well, then, Jimmy Fallon is the wrong man for the job. The late-night live wire is not Ambien — he’s Pop Rocks. He’s pure creative energy and sincere good cheer, whether he’s doing a goofy three-legged-pants dance with Cameron Diaz or fanboy fawning over U2. He’s a hipster Santa with a bag of digital toys for cool girls and boys. Mostly boys.

Fallon, 39, is no Jay Leno, and thank Carnac for that: The Tonight Show has been stuck in transition for 22 years, waiting for someone to make it relevant instead of keeping it shackled to an old Hollywood past. Fallon is not a stand-up comic but a versatile sketch comedian, and everything enjoyable about his brand of late-night fun comes from this sensibility. He doesn’t tell jokes in his monologue, he performs them. And well. So much so that he can seem like an actor playing the role of a talk-show host doing a monologue. He’s funniest with bits, like his tried-and-true ”Thank You Notes” franchise; or prerecorded shorts, like a perfectly cheesy ’80s music video about the office sport of wastepaper basketball (with an assist from LeBron James). The Roots offer extraordinary support: not only a great band but ace comic performers in their own right. The Bachelor reenactments with Questlove and Black Thought? Priceless.

Fallon is a pop-aware, social-media sprite who loves to make buzz moments with famous people who recognize the PR value in looking endearingly goofy. A lip-synch duel with Paul Rudd; charades with Emma Thompson, Tim McGraw, and Bradley Cooper. If only he knew how to actually talk with his guests. With a few exceptions, such as a winning encounter with First Lady Michelle Obama (who could totally rock a talk show of her own), Fallon’s interviews are rarely interesting entertainments. He’s too cheerleader-gushy, too eager to move them off the couch and play with them on the stage. The result is a show that feels like less than the sum of its parts. B

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