The late night TV landscape is changing once again as Jimmy Fallon moves over to “The Tonight Show.” The transition is much more peaceful than it was last time, which saw Conan O’Brien get kicked out of his spot after only a few months. Now that all of the dust has had time to truly settle, since this was back in 2010, it’s time to check in with “Conan” and see what’s been happening over on TBS.
Late night TV is the same on every network, in every time slot. There’s the monologue, which is almost never great, followed by a sketch or two, and then interviews. It’s been like this for decades, and when “Conan” first premiered in 2010 it looked to be the show that was going to upset that formula. Conan O’Brien was just coming off of his “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on TV” tour and his new show was on TBS, where he could get away with way more stuff. He’s brought a more manic energy to “Conan” than he did on “Late Night” and “The Tonight Show,” but now that he’s had time to stretch his legs and get comfortable “Conan” has become just another late night talk show.
“The whitest man in show business is back, on the second blackest channel on TV.”
The biggest issue right now is with the monologue. Anyone who’s seen the episodes he wrote of “The Simpsons” (predominantly “Marge versus the Monorail”) will know that Conan O’Brien’s humor skews to the weird side of things, and the traditional set-up/punchline style of the monologue doesn’t suit him well. His transitions between jokes are always stiff, and he is often stuck laughing at how poorly a joke did. The best part of the monologues are when his sidekick Andy Richter interjects with something far funnier than whatever joke Conan is pitching. When your sidekick can upstage you during your monologue, you know there’s a problem.
Following the opening monologue there’s normally a sketch or two. Many of the sketches he has are pretty funny and to the point, though there have been less and less of them as his run continues. Now a lot of the time it’s simply Conan walking around his office talking to his staff doing something ridiculous, like bringing in an office organizer to organize his associate producers amazingly messy office. The premises are usually solid and they give Conan a chance to kick out the jams and be funny in a one-on-one setting.
The one-on-one setting is where Conan O’Brien really shines. He always has, and he probably always will. Since he ends up interviewing so many people he often runs into people he can’t care about, or people he doesn’t know, but unlike Letterman or Leno he doesn’t let that show. The man is committed to his interviews, and is his most personable in these segments. Since he’s always been the hip alternative in the realm of late-night, a lot of the younger guests were raised to worship him, which does wonders to their interviews since they’ll be just as enthusiastic as he is. The other great thing about Conan O’Brien is how he easily makes it seem like he has been friends with his guests for a good long time. Megan Mullally recently gave an interview talking about her birthday party, and the way the two of them get along you would almost think that Conan was actually at the party.
“When all else fails, there’s always delusion.”
There’s nothing aggressively wrong with “Conan,” and yet I can’t help but feel that it’s a missed opportunity to change up the late night formula. Conan proved he could do something different with his elaborate comedy tour, but when he came back to TV it was the same old same old. Having just re-watched “The Simpsons” first few seasons, I know what he is capable of and it saddens me to see Conan O’Brien being so traditional.