I’m not ashamed to admit that I haven’t always been a fan of Jimmy Fallon. During his time on Saturday Night Live from 1998-2004, I viewed him as a very middle of the road comedian. He had some clear comedic talent but it only occasionally showed through. I found myself being pulled toward his other, more comedic co-workers like Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Darrell Hammond. When I think of these four in particular, I remember several hilarious skits that left me in stitches. When I think of Fallon, his annoying tendency to laugh at his own jokes always jumps to the front of my mind. His departure barely resonated with me. The crap movies he starred in after didn’t exactly help his case either. This caused me to roll my eyes extensively when he picked up the Late Show in 2009. “What is it about Fallon that makes people want to watch him?” I most definitely thought. Clearly I had very low expectations for this man.
Yet Fallon has really grown on me since my incredibly nonplussed reaction to him getting his own talk show. He started hitting marks that I never knew he could. Did I start liking him more because my comedic tastes matured? Did he finally find what he was born to do? It’s very possibly a combination of both. Fallon found a way to resonate with young audiences that people like David Letterman and Jay Leno simply couldn’t match. He quickly joined the new era of network talk show hosts that could connect with a much younger generation. He became NBC’s answer to Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and eventually Conan O’Brien. This is why when he was pegged to take up The Tonight Show from Leno, it was completely expected. Before I knew it, I found myself legitimately excited for a newer and fresher Tonight Show. Now that his first week is done, I’m happy to say that Fallon fits the hosting role well despite still being hampered by his typical faults.
To start off with the good, Fallon’s first week was a complete knockout with the guests. He seriously couldn’t have asked for a better line up to get people pumped for this new era. The first night had Will Smith and U2, complete juggernauts in their respective crafts. Smith was spectacular as always, but the real winners of the first night were U2 with their outstanding rooftop performance during a New York skyline illuminating sunrise. I was in awe. The guests only got better and better too with memorable visits from Kristen Wiig, Jerry Seinfeld, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Fallon’s best friend Justin Timberlake. From the biggest musical acts to the most high profile individuals, Fallon soared through every interview with comfort and poise. His typical good nature clearly provided a very welcoming atmosphere to The Tonight Show set.
Fallon also does a great job making The Tonight Show into a real viewing experience. He’s not always relegated to a desk that so many hosts choose to sit behind. He eats up every space provided to him, including the beautifully designed set that screams New York. He does comedy bits and dance routines with guests, he directly interacts with The Roots, and he never forgets to high five the live audience after every show. Fallon isn’t content being the show and everyone watching him. He wants everyone to feel like they had a part, no matter how small, in making that individual show possible. I tell you, this is so much more refreshing than seeing the host at a desk all episode and talking to the crowd but not working with them. This will clearly be Fallon’s biggest means to stand out from the pack.
Despite the strong guests and welcoming atmosphere, there was one major problem that was especially evident in this first week: Fallon loves to play it safe. Even on SNL Fallon loved to make jokes that didn’t push boundaries too far. He loved keeping his humor at a comfortable level for all demographics. While it’s easy to forgive him for being a bit too safe on his first week, I can see this being a problem in the long run. So many of the jokes Fallon made during his monologues had expected punch lines that mainly elicited nothing more than a chuckle. Even some bits with the guests didn’t exactly work, like Fallon and Will Ferrell’s “Ew” which went on much too long. The safe humor may have flown under the radar during Late Night but now Fallon is playing with the big boys. If he’s not willing to push the envelope from time to time, people wanting a little spice with their meals will turn to people like Kimmel and Colbert. At the very least though, the positives mentioned prior do balance things out a bit.
All things considered, Fallon is clearly meant to host The Tonight Show. He has more than enough experience behind his belt to take the show to new heights. This first week has been truly great and it’s clear that Fallon has a bright future ahead of him at 11:30 PM. If the guests and the musical guests can continue to be as great as they were these past five days, NBC will have a real winner on their hands. A large part of me really wants to see the show in person too considering how engaged everything is. Not going to lie, I wouldn’t mind being caught in one of those final shots high fiving Fallon. If Fallon really wants to make waves in one of the biggest late night programs in history though, he’ll have to be willing to get loose with his humor. You can chalk his safety up to nerves for the first week but it’ll be tough to keep this going for a significant amount of time. It’s not easy to play it clean when the people you’re up against are willing to get dirty.