WHAT’S ON THE TELLY: Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (The First Month)

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Jimmy Fallon replaced Conan O’Brien for the Late Night show on NBC, and I’ve watched every show so far, a full 25 shows. I know it’s 25 not only from memory, but because The Roots, the show’s house band, always mentions the number of the show when show announcer Steve Higgins mentions “the legendary Roots crew”.

But this is not about a great band, which oddly enough is the primary reason why I’m watching the show. I guess you could say I’m a casual fan of Fallon, and I hadn’t watched Saturday Night Live religiously again until last year, when Tina Fey received a lot of attention for portraying Sarah Palin, but really it’s all about Amy Poehler. Anyway, the point is I haven’t watched SNL since sometime in the 90’s, when I felt it was last funny, but I have seen the movies many members and former SNL members have created, including Fallon. His humor is often straightforward, not always in your face, as if he’s playing the casual guy and he may be mocking you and you don’t know it. I hadn’t watched Late Night With Conan O’Brien for years too, I guess when you’ve worked in a news department at a television station for a long time, the last thing I want to do is watch more TV.

So with the wonders of DVR’s, I’m able to watch a show without having to stay up late at night, and I wanted to become a fan of Fallon’s new show. Verdict: the show still has a few kinks to get out but I think it’s a really good show that is open to changing, rearranging, and a new direction in late night TV. I like the fact that he incorporates his love of computing and gadgets into his shows. At times it seems he can’t get away from doing SNL-type skits, as if avoiding them will make viewers forget where he came from. Unlikely. Sometimes his interviews can get awkward, as if he’s not quite prepared to take on the subject when they throw him a curve ball, or when he gets very talkative and it ruins the whole momentum of the interview. There was a segment where he was interviewing actress Emma Roberts, and when she talked about her love of books and reading, he asked her what she may be reading on her Amazon Kindle, and she said something to the effect of “what? what is that?” Or the dreaded first show, where it was one awkward moment after another.

Most of the times it seems the audience doesn’t quite get his jokes, while other nights the audience are laughing their asses off. Are they turning on the laughter light, or did his writing staff work overnight to come up with a funny joke? Or is it the audience, a New York audience that refuses to take anything that is second rate? Fortunately he senses this and tries to steer into something else, and he does that with grace.

The big highlight of the show, however, is indeed The Roots. I’ve been a member of the band’s forum at Okayplayer for about ten years, and the community there is incredible. When drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson revealed that The Roots were going to become Fallon’s house band, it was met with a number of responses. 1) it was now possible for anyone to see The Roots play and perform five days a week. 2) it was now possible for The Roots to get more mainstream attention than ever before. 3) The attention may lead to the members of the band getting more work outside of The Roots proper.

But it also made some fans wonder if this was a sell-out move, something they played around with in the Spike Lee film Bamboozled, where The Roots were the blackfaced houseband for a guy who sold himself out. Was this the ultimate sell-out? Maybe not, since the group were often well received with their connection to The Dave Chappelle Show. In the end, fans and naysayers have found The Roots to be the perfect band for the show, and almost every guest who appears have given nothing but praise for ?uest, Black Thought, Kamal, James Poyser, Tuba Gooding Jr., Captain Kirk, Owen Biddle, and Knuckles. The group have interacted with the show, showing their individual personalities, and often enhancing some of the skits used in the show such as “Shared Experience”, where everyone in the studio audience does something for the sake of audience unity, and “Lick It For 10”, when someone licks a random item for $10 and when that footage is played in slow motion, they’ll play a slow jam that looks like a borderline porn trailer. Fallon doesn’t have a proper sidekick, but interacts with announcer Higgins a lot, but sometimes it feels like The Roots are his sidekicks, sometimes offering the more humorous moments of the show.

Everyone balances out, and this is not to say that Fallon isn’t funny, because he is. I hope NBC decides to keep the show for another year or two, because I see it growing into something big. Maybe for now he will pull on every member of Saturday Night Live because it’s more convenient for him to do, but he’s also bringing in musical guests that you would never see on mainstream TV these days, especially with musical outlets on TV disappearing. It would be great for Fallon to find an audience that understands his humor, and a lot of times the lack of understanding in his humor is what makes it work. Anyone who has ever listened to classic comedy albums know that not every joke is going to be a winner, so it’s not like Fallon should be perfect 100 percent of the time. But what he is doing is pulling something that will hopefully keep people to his show, bring in a new audience to late nice TV, and of course bring The Roots to a bigger audience.

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