Thoughts on Conan's First Night

This woman almost certainly wasn’t watching, but I sure was. And it was as great as anyone could’ve hoped for. Keep it up, Conando.

At last! After three months of dark and lonely nights, it feels so good to be back in the ConeZone.

That Forrest Gump-esque cross-country run, a nod to the first scene of his first show, was really well done. (And Cheap Trick was a great call!) It must’ve cost a whole bunch of money to film, too, which may be a good sign. Hopefully it presages many more remote spots with big production budgets. (Like, say, this one.)

The first joke was great: “I have to admit I think I’ve timed this moment perfectly. Think about it: I’m on a last-place network; I moved to state that’s bankrupt; and tonight’s show is sponsored by General Motors.” But here’s the weird thing: for whatever reason, if a similar line had been chirruped by Leno, I wouldn’t have laughed at all.

The Biden/Sotomayor thing was funny throwaway, too: a nice bit of Letterman-influenced film clip absurdism. Yo quiero Choco Taco.

Gotta say, though, I thought the tour tram driver bit was a little lackluster — at least by his lofty standards. Those remote bits are, hands-down, Conan’s forte. And I think they’re the arrow in his quill best-suited to endear him to middle-of-the-road Jay Leno fans (such as, say, the lady linked to above) who may still be skeptical.

On that note: I found myself spending an undue amount of time wondering how this bit or that joke would play in Peoria. So much has been made of the differences between Leno and Conan audiences, I found myself almost nervous, hoping O’Brien’s brand of humor would appeal to those who might not otherwise have watched him.

Hopefully he and his writers — so many of whom followed him to California — won’t be hamstrung by such concerns, and won’t try to conceive of every joke with corn-fed Middle-American values in mind.

We’ll see. Maybe I was imagining it, but when Will Ferrell joked that “Liza [Minnelli] is a Communist. A [Tony Award] vote for Liza is like urinating on the flag,” Conan’s feigned abashedness seemed tinged by a bit of genuine nervousness. One doesn’t want to completely alienate the flag pin set on the very first show!

On the other hand, I about lost it when Ferrell started singing the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m pulling for you. But this little thing is a crapshoot at best.”

While we’re on the subject of numerically-named bands, how great was it to see great to see the Max Weinberg 7 — ahem, “Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band,” now with more James Wormworth! — back together? (So much for those rumors this winter.)

A little bit surprised that they kept the same theme song from Late Night, though. Not disappointed at all, mind you, just surprised. Seems like they’d want a new start. To me at least, the theme (I had no idea it was co-written by John Lurie!) just seems to have much more of an New York City vibe to it, jumping with Gotham’s jittery energy rather than the pomp of sunny Hollywood.

Speaking of which: hopefully now that the first show is under his belt, we can get past all this pandering to Angelenos. The driving of the Taurus SHO around the city was pretty funny, and the Lakers sight gag was hilarious. But enough is enough. We get it. LA is different from NYC. (And how ‘bout some love for Brookline? Either Conan really isn’t much of a Celtics fan, or he’s trying to hide it from his new neighbors ... no green to be seen at the Staples Center.)

The new studio? Gorgeous and classy, with a really sharp art-deco look. But feels huge compared to Studio 6A. And that did seem to affect the vibe a bit. (Although it looks like Ferrell might have started a new tradition in the dressing room?)

And, heck, that “big fat dildo” Andy Richter sure was a sight for sore eyes. If I don’t get to see an Andy/Conan staring contest this week, there is no justice in this world. But couldn’t they have found a somewhat more propitious spot in which to plunk him down? All by his lonesome there behind that tiny podium, our new announcer boy looked like a pariah.

I’ll be curious to see how things play out from here on in, especially when it comes to bookings. He’s already promised not to let the new time slot unduly affect his jokes. So who are we gonna get more of? Fred Armisen and Aziz Ansari? Or Carlos Mencia and Jeff Foxworthy?

One thing seems certain, alas: I fear the Fed Ex Pope may have been lost in transit.

Aside from that, so far, the only drawback of this new arrangement is that Conan’s now going head to head not just with Letterman but with his string-dance rival, “arch conservative” pundit Stephen Colbert. Thank the Maker for TiVo.

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