George Lopez brings a glitzy street party to late night talk on TBS
Promising to bring change to late night, Lopez offered a debut show Monday filled with energy and gentle jokes about race and culture (one segment asked audience members to guess if people off the street fit certain stereotypes, including asking if an Asian man was, um, well endowed).
It was a bit of a change -- the only white performer to appear on Monday's show was comic Ellen DeGeneres, who made a surprise appearance in pajamas and slippers to greet the crowd -- with jello shots.
Months before the show's debut, Lopez cited long-gone talk host Arsenio Hall as his inspiration. Looking at Monday's show, you could see the influence -- as Lopez took Hall's vision of a funky good time and blew it up to enormous proportions, filling his studio with hundreds of guests who seemed to remain standing for most of the show.
Lopez's monologue felt like a snippet pulled straight from his standup act, with references to his tough mother and love life. A joke about shirtless rapper 50 Cent's new cologne was the most topical reference, with the comic cracking: "I hear it smells like illegitimate children and gunpowder."
Otherwise, Lopez offered a standard, if entertaining hour, with sit-down interviews featuring longtime showbiz buddies such as Eva Longoria Parker (he pulled out a stripper pole for her to strut on, referencing a bet they made when she appeared on one of his test shows) and Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant. But the chats weren't about much, beyond all the cool events Parker and Lopez visit together and how cool Bryant was for even deigning to stop by.
The evening's standout may have been a performance by rock guitar legend Carlos Santana, who offered blistering versions of Oye Como Va and Marvin Gaye's The World is Rated X, backed by Lopez's band, which features several members from Michael Jackson's backup band in the film This Is It.
It's a formula nearly old as TV itself, tweaked to serve Lopez's animated, multicultural style.
But if a successful talk show is a relentless marathon, this was a good first step, serving notice that a new voice had come to late night -- even if he was just reiterating what's been said before with a different flair.
Check my words of wisdom on the issue, tapped by National Public Radio: