At last, it has arrived.
Just last week, in our Fall TV Preview, I wrote of the impending premiere of “The Jay Leno Show,” “This is the most controversial maneuver in the past several decades of television history, a Hail Mary by the people at the Peacock,” so as a TV critic, there was no way I was going to miss Jay’s premiere episode. Having now seen it, I am absolutely unsurprised to report to you that, aside from a change in set, there’s virtually no different between the feel of his work on “The Tonight Show” and his work on “The Jay Leno Show.”
Really, though, this can’t be a surprise to anyone.
Although I always picked Letterman over Leno in the late night wars, I never disliked Leno. He was always hysterical whenever he turned up on “Late Night with David Letterman,” so I was thrilled for the guy when he made the transition to Johnny Carson’s regular guest host and turned that into a gig as Carson’s full-time replacement. But you can like a guy without actually watching him, and although I can see the appeal that Leno offers to mainstream audiences, I just prefer my comedy to be a little bit more off-center.
Rest assured, there was very little outside-of-the-box comedy on display in the first episode of “The Jay Leno Show.”
The show followed predominantly the same format you’ve come to expect from a talk show – monologue, filmed bits, guests, and musical performance – with the only real difference being the decision to offer Jay’s stock bit, “Headlines,” at the very end, so as to segue the show semi-seamlessly into the local news.
Before the guests came out, I think I only laughed out loud once: when they showed a clip which was ostensibly supposed to be President Bush riding his mountain bike. The rest of the monologue was pretty standard stuff, with the gag about one of the U.S. Open judge texting during the match being rather groanworthy. Even the “Cheaters” bit, which had potential in its concept, wasn’t as funny as it seemed as thuogh it should’ve been. (I had envisioned Jay confronting Conan on the set of “The Tonight Show” or something, but instead we got Kevin Eubanks hanging out with a Jay lookalike.) Dan Finnerty and the Dan Band’s “Everything Is Better With Music” started out funny, but once it became evident that it took more than a single take to do the piece, it felt so staged that it was hard to embrace it fully.
As for the guests, Jerry Seinfeld is always dependable, and the bit with Oprah agreeing to turn up within Jerry’s segment even though Jay couldn’t get a callback was pretty funny, but the part of the episode which will inevitably go down in the archives was Kanye West’s decision to address the Taylor Swift debacle from last night’s MTV Video Music Awards. Hey, look, Jay made Kanye cry! Now that’s an interviewer! Somewhere between those two conversations, there was also a faux interview between Jay and President Obama, but for some reason, Jay felt obligated to clarify earlier in the episode that it was fake. What, like we wouldn’t have been able to tell? Anyway, it had its moments, but it wasn’t what I’d call non-stop hilarity.
So there you go: “The Jay Leno Show” has arrived, and it’s pretty much what everyone expected it was going to be. On the whole, I thought it was okay, but there were several occasions during the course of the proceedings where I absolutely would’ve flipped over to something else if I hadn’t been writing this recap.
That’s probably not the kind of review that Leno was hoping to get, but it’s probably about what he expected.