Jimmy Fallon offers energy, few laughs on first night
So in that sense, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon lived up to its expectations.
Filled with nervous energy and not much else, Fallon smiled and mugged his way through a debut show that was notable mostly for its lack of a train wreck moment. Instead, the hour was a series of jittery encounters between the host and his guests -- from an almost terminally laid-back Robert De Niro (who they somehow convinced to participate in an absurd sketch called "Space Train") to the soothing pro Justin Timberlake (his John Mayer and Michael McDonald impressions quite literally saved the show).
Indeed, the funniest moment came at the show's start, when O'Brien was shown still packing up his dressing room as Fallon was preparing to go on. "I was gonna TiVo it, or something," O'Brien deadpanned, when told his replacement was about to film his first show.
The surface details on Fallon's Late Night were gleaming -- sharp new set in Rockefeller Center's Studio 6B, interesting house band in rap group the Roots, and a roster of famous guests in his first week. But De Niro was typically laconic in his appearance and musical guest Van Morrison jammed on the same few chords for long minutes, singing lyrics you could barely understand. No wonder they added Timberlake at the last minute -- without his smooth charm, this debut would have been a snoozer.
I'd also love to have seen more of the Roots, who shone during a bit called "Slow jamming the news," and less absurd stunts like their impromptu contest "Lick it for 10." (Yes, audience members licked stuff like a riding mower and goldfish bowl for $10. No, it wasn't any funnier than it sounds.)
Late-night shows are always long-term propositions -- both O'Brien and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel took years to hit their stride. But Fallon needs an onstage persona that reaches beyond boyish charm and self-deprecating gratitude to something that might keep you from heading to bed past midnight.
And that, unfortunately, is something we didn't see in the debut.