Conan O'Brien debuted his new TBS show last night. The only jokes he made were about getting fired by NBC. It was like a first date with a guy who only talks about what a bitch his ex-girlfriend is. Enough!
Of course Conan's unceremonious ouster from his spot hosting The Tonight Show had to be addressed when starting the new show, and he did that with the silly opening segment about getting gunned down by the NBC goon squad and his subsequent salvation on basic cable. It had the charming self-effacement that has become Conan's signature, with just a twinge of biting bitterness at NBC. It was perfect.
But then his monologue started and it just continued. Aside from his gag (in my opinion his best) trying to summarize all the world's events since he's been off the air in one joke, everything was about NBC. Actually, even that joke was built on the premise that he's been off the air for awhile as a result of, you guessed it, NBC. Even all the little jabs at TBS being low-budget are also predicated on the fact he'd been fired and now had to stoop to doing a show on cable to make a living. While manically pacing around his new set, it was a bit like an SNL skit about a crazy uncle who can only talk about the horrors of his service in Vietnam, because each punchline came back to NBC.
After the first commercial, I held out hope, but the whole second segment behind his desk was more bile directed at his former bosses. In one way or another every single joke was about getting fired. Yes, Conan got a raw deal from NBC and we were always Team Coco, but we've heard all these jokes before. By the time he pulled out the "Ex Talk Show Host" masks, I was ready to turn it off altogether.
The first night of any new talk show, especially one that had the buzz of Conan is a bit like a job interview. Everyone changes their late-night viewing habits for one night to check out this new thing, and the host has to summarize what his show is going to be like every night if he wants the curious to come back for more. Conan squandered the opportunity to display the promise of the future so he could relive the sting of the past. Like I warned, he's letting his firing be the thing that defines him and there are only so many jokes one can wring out of that before it becomes tedious. Actually it's tedious already.
The other problem is that Conan seems to be intent on airing a low-budget version of The Tonight Show. Someone as smart and talented as O'Brien should have taken this opportunity to free himself from the shackles of the safe late night talk show mold and create something entirely new and revolutionary. That would really be sticking it to the corporate entertainment giant he so despises. Instead it's the same exact format with half the money.
Right now, Conan is like Flock of Seagulls. He's standing in a dingy concert hall, his signature high hair starting to wilt, cutting on his shabby digs while talking about how he used to play giant stadiums. Shave the hair off, Conan. It's time to freshen things up and reinvent yourself. Until you can work through your issues with your ex, we don't think we want to go out with you again.