"It's like a Backstreet Boys reunion here--only not as good."
Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show debut was crammed with filmed bits last night, including a funny opener which found him checking off all the things he had to do--"Write Jokes, check, Brush Teeth, check--until he got to "Move to LA." Still in Manhattan, he failed to hail a cab and then had to run to the West Coast, past the Guggenheim, past Chicago's Wrigley Field, past the St. Louis arch, past Vegas, through streams, over bridges, across deserts, all the way to his new studio at Universal City. Of course, when he gets there, he realizes he left the keys at home and has to smash through the doors on a tow-motor.
Love the new opening titles, especially the iconic, spinning NBC microphone. The new set is dazzling with its curved lines, wide stage and stained glass curtain. O'Brien has set it all up with the band (Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band--they added an eighth to the Max Weinberg 7) on our right and the announcer (Andy Richter) on our left, the opposite of his old show and the same way Leno and Johnny Carson had it.
Last night's monologue was short and self congratulatory; it will get longer in coming shows.
"I think I've timed this moment perfectly," he said. "I'm on the last place network, I moved to a state that's bankrupt and tonight's show is sponsored by General Motors."
There were too many filmed bits to cram in last night, including a over-long ride on the Universal Tours tram. This got tiresome, almost as if O'Brien's writers had not yet arrived from the East Coast and he really had to make it all up as he went. Taking the tram off the studio lot and int0 the streets was funny, as was stopping at a 99-cent store where he bought them all crazy-ass junk.
A typical Conan Late Night gag followed when they wheeled out the giant Letter D from the Hollywood sign--then wrecked it shoving it out the door.
"Hollywoo is kinda catchy," said Richter, who was barely involved last night.
Next up was a filmed tribute to O'Brien's actual 1991 Ford Taurus. Even Fabio was impressed with his wheels.
Will Ferrell came out carried aloft on a throne by four beefy Vegas dudes. Ferrell offered some tips on living in LA which seemed to amuse O'Brien. After the break there were jokes about Liza Minnelli being a commie (Ferrell is up against her for a Tony Award). O'Brien then threw to Ferrell's new film Land of the Lost, which looks supremely unfunny in the clips that are endlessly run during commercial breaks. Ferrell wrapped up his segment by singing, "Never Can Say Goodbye," which was inappropriate as O'Brien pointed out. "Don't get me wrong, I'm pulling for you man," said Ferrell, "but this whole thing's a crap shoot at best."
It all felt a bit off, that the two were trying too hard, surprisingly nervous, not sure yet of the timing in the larger studio.
The show closed with a blast of Pearl Jam. O'Brien stayed true to his comedy persona last night. He didn't try to be Leno or Carson or anybody else and that was good. He's built a career on his How did I get this job shtick and that's always goof for a laff. But after a few weeks of that he should just be the guy now and grow into this job, this set, this legacy that is The Tonight Show. He'll have to step up the topical humour, people expect plenty of jokes up front on the president and the economy, not just on the Clippers. He's got all of California as a new playground and his take on all that will be welcome on Tonight--maybe just not so much of it.