Only three nights in, it feels almost as though Conan O’Brien never left – and that’s not entirely a good thing.
Sure, he’s just as amusing as he always was (if you watch the ‘rejected names for the new show‘ bit and don’t snicker at ‘Hanky Panky with a Lanky Yankee,’ something’s wrong), but what’s seems to have changed is the energy he used to have. It’s surely an unfair comparison, but one can’t help but recall how pumped the opening of his first ‘Tonight Show,’ was with that epic run from New York to Los Angeles set to “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. It was brimming with the excitement of a guy landing his dream job. This week, ‘Conan’ feels kind of like it’s already become routine, almost as if they’re going through the motions of a talk show without having that old joie de vivre, but apparently there’s only so much excitement you can expect out of a guy settling for “Plan B.”
The big complaint that O’Brien had about the ratings woes of his ‘Tonight Show,’ aside from Jay Leno’s horrendous lead-in, was that any new late-night show like this needs time to build its audience and find its voice, and ‘Conan’ is the same way. Once the show has been rolling for a while, and the memories of how impossibly supercharged those last few weeks on NBC were begin to fade into their proper perspective, maybe it’ll be a lot easier to fully embrace the new, looser and relaxed O’Brien, and maybe we’ll stop trying to put our thumb on what feels a bit off. Maybe this is just who the man is when he’s not trying to fit into a mold and appeal to as many people as possible, and when he settles into that, he’ll find his legs again.
One issue is that we haven’t seen much of that trademark Conan lunacy, outside of the Masturbating Bear cameo on the premiere episode. Last night’s appearance by Will Forte playing Ted Turner on a stuffed buffalo on wheels fell a little flat. Another thing is that, while he’s had fun guests, O’Brien’s interviews of celebrities have never been his strong point. He often feels very forced and stilted in his chats, although that might be because Craig Ferguson’s method of tearing up his notes and having an actual conversation with his guests makes everyone else’s scripted confabs pale in comparison.
Jon Hamm was so handsome and smooth on Night 3, though, that he made it look cool and easy, and goofy comedian/musician Charlyne Yi made things enjoyable because of O’Brien’s obvious adoration of her and her oddness. It also helped to close out the show with a pretty damn groovy performance from Fistful of Mercy featuring Tom Morello (which neglects to highlight the fact that the band also features the great Ben Harper and George Harrison’s son Dhani Harrison).