Sure, Jimmy Fallon was awkward on his Late Night debut, as first-time hosts tend to be. But expectations are so low the comedian just needed to show a little promise. That he did.
The biggest weakness on the show is relatively easy to fix: Crowd control. The rowdy studio audience was way too pumped up, interrupting Fallon to cheer their home states (why do late show audiences always do this?) and to ruin one of his jokes with a well-timed "yeaaaaah!"
Also, the audience microphones were up way too loud; TV viewers could clearly hear chatter and exhaling noises between Fallon's jokes.
Fallon also needs work on his interview skills. His sit-down with Robert DeNiro, for example, was pretty awful. DeNiro barely got a word in edgewise as Fallon defined "Tribeca," told a pointless story about another celebrity (Jack Nicholson), recounted a pedestrian joke DeNiro made on email and at one point said, "I don't know what I'm asking." (DeNiro's laconic manner was maybe part of a meta-joke about how he doesn't talk? It was still awkward.)
The skit "lick it for $10," in which studio audience members lick products made by (we're guessing) show sponsors was a total write-off even though it followed the first commercial break — a prime piece of show real estate.
Picking these sorts of nits is, again, too easy with a brand-new host. On the bright side:
- The news "slow jam," performed with The Roots, was inspired. It looks like Fallon plans to make heavy use of his excellent house band, which should keep the show interesting and lively.
- Fallon imitated DeNiro to his face. It wasn't a great impersonation, but being willing to make an utter fool out of yourself can come in handy for a late-night host.
- The monologue felt vaguely Weekend Update-y, which is good in the sense that there were at least two really solid jokes. Fallon just needs to slow down from the fast delivery customary at Saturday Night Live's fake news desk
- Pushing Justin Timberlake to make fun of other singers shows good instincts. Good luck trying to get other celebrities to play ball with that sort of concept.
- The opening skit with Conan O'Brien was great, but Fallon has to share credit with his predecessor.