Category Archives: Culture That Pops

New in ‘Late Night’: Seth Meyers is Not Your Jimmy Fallon, But Who is He?

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Nothing better expresses the differences between the new host of Late Night and his predecessor on the Tonight Show than how the two handled their first few moments at their new gigs. Jimmy Fallon, in his ever-present enthusiasm, optimism and geniality, introduced himself to his new vastly larger audience, with an aww-shucks-i-ness that borded on pure cheese, but it was Jimmy Fallon so we let it slide. Seth Meyers on the other hand, stole one of Jimmy’s Late Night/Tonight Show bits, “Thank You Notes,” thanking Jimmy for the show and stating how he would only use it for original comedy bits, “starting now.” It’s earnestness versus earnestness with a little snark.

Meyers has spent the past 12 years down the hall in 30 Rock on Saturday Night Live, much of that spent as head writer and behind the Weekend Update desk. There he delivered topical short jokes in succession, with a hard newsman way of hitting his punchlines that made him one of the best anchors the show ever had. And so it was not altogether shocking, though a little disappointing, that Meyers, once dispensed with his Thank You Note cold open, delivered a monologue that was really just a Weekend Update segment, but standing up and without the visuals:”Well the winter olympics in Sochi came to an end last night, so for the next four years if you go skiing with a rifle on your back, you’re just a crazy person.” “The brassiere turns 100 years old this week. So does the only person who still calls it a brassiere.” Funny? Sure. But not really anything new.

As soon as Meyers got behind his desk on his weird Jeopardy-like set that doesn’t have either a curtain or a couch, it was plain to see how much more comfortable he became. The vague nervous and jittery quality that pervaded throughout the monologue slipped away.  One of the best moments occurred when we discovered that Meyers could be a storyteller, and not just a joke-teller, when he related an experience of having someone else change a flat tire for him. (“It was very hard to feel macho when you’re holding a tiny dog while another man changes your wife’s tire.”)

He also tried his hand at a few bits, as is the requirement of any late night host. They were mostly about the Olympics (please NBC, release Meyers and Fallon from this Olympic-centric leash you have them on now that the games are over). The “Venn Diagrams” one was okay, and it definitely has potential for growth. What was most notable about the bit was the sly Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow joke, a controversy that Jimmy Fallon wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. But Meyers isn’t afraid to go there.

Amy Poehler was, predictably, the perfect first guest. (Clearly he has better bookers than Fallon did at first, remember when someone stuck him with Robert DeNiro on his first night?) She and Meyers have history and genuine chemistry, plus Poehler is fun on any talk show she graces with her presence. And Meyers struck gold with his second guest as well. Joe Biden was as well suited to Meyers as Michelle Obama is to Fallon. (Meyers made fun of Biden’s State of the Union performance to his face, compared to Fallon’s silly bits about kale chips and shy faces with the First Lady.)

Poehler and Biden were easy guests, if only because they highlight what’s good about Meyers, his ability to take the conversation to a freewheeling place and his soft sarcasm. And the former host of the White House Correspondents dinner is not shying away from political jabs. The interviews were, surprisingly, the highlight of the episode. But as Poehler was quick to note, that all could change with a bad guest. Surely Kanye West will be a trial-by-fire tonight.

So far, and a little surprisingly, it seems that the monologue will be Meyers’ biggest challenge in the weeks and months to come. The monologue is a beast to be sure; Fallon has never really seemed totally at ease even five years in to his career as a talk show host. And there’s nothing really wrong with the jokes Meyers was telling, except that the content and delivery were so similar to what he did on Update, it’s hard to tell what makes Late Night its own thing, separate from SNL, or even, what makes it different than all the other options out there that air after 11pm? And that was the one issue with Meyers’ debut — we don’t know who he is yet. We’re still seeing Seth Meyers, Weekend Update Anchor. I want to meet Seth Meyers, Late Night Host.

People were asking these questions about Jimmy Fallon when he premiered too, for sure. And it took time for Fallon to carve out his own niche of viral, nostalgic positivity at Late Night and now at Tonight. The early clues about what direction Meyers will go were there last night, but really it’s so hard to tell anything about a late night show from one episode. It’s like reviewing a book one chapter in. And indeed, there’s a lot that needs to be figured out. What exactly to do with Fred Armisen is one big question. It seems right now that there’s a little too much star power in the band section. But that could change. Only time will tell what direction Meyers is going in, I just hope it’s generally away from Saturday Night Live

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Thoughts on Fallon’s First ‘Tonight’

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There are three things that are very clear now that Jimmy Fallon has hosted his first Tonight Show. Alas, one of them is not whether NBC’s gamble of bringing him to 11:30 will pay off in terms of ratings, or even if he’ll have the job for very long. But viewers of last night’s broadcast, whether or not they knew anything about Fallon and his tenure on Late Night, came away knowing for certain that he’s really is nice, he’s incredibly happy to be here and he has a lot of friends.

That last one was highlighted by a parade of celebrities, from Robert De Niro (his first guest on Late Night) to Lindsay Lohan to Stephen Colbert, there to deliver Fallon a nice crisp c-note after he mentioned that his “buddy” who said Fallon would never host the Tonight Show now owed him $100. Colbert’s inclusion was important not just because he and Fallon are friends, but also because they are now direct rivals, timeslot-wise. Jimmy isn’t really into the idea of late-night wars (he even brought Joan Rivers back after a decades-long absence when Johnny Carson banned her for trying to start her own late-night show). Wars will only get in the way of having fun.

Fallon started things off hitting all the right notes. He’s got a new opening directed by Spike Lee that highlights New York and a new set (there might be a little too much wood). But really what was so good, and so Jimmy about the whole thing, is that he walked out in his new set, on the first night of standing on a literally and figuratively bigger stage, and said “Hi, I’m Jimmy Fallon.” It’s a gesture that will not go unnoticed, not with Leno’s older audience that many are predicting will flee, nor with newcomers there for the hype. Fallon is an unpretentious guy, and he’s here to win you over, if you’ll let him.

As Fallon has said in many interviews in the lead up to last night, he’s not really changing his Late Night formula. And after his introduction (and a ridiculously cute interaction with Fallon’s parents) he jumped right in, starting off with two segments he’s become known for, “Superlatives” and another spoof of “The Evolution of Dance.” This time the spoof was the Evolution of Hip Hop Dancing, with first guest Will Smith in tow and in matching overalls. If there was any way of definitely showing how different Fallon is from Leno, this video was the way. It’s a spoof of a YouTube video where the jokes rely on knowledge of Hip Hop (and also The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). Welcome to the new generation of the Tonight Show

The rest of the show was pretty standard and a little safe, which tracks because Will Smith and U2 are very safe guests. U2 did get a fabulous concert on top of 30 Rock at sunset, with a backdrop of the New York skyline that almost looked photoshopped. I’m not a big Will Smith fan, so his segments were not necessarily my favorite, but the moment when U2, in their “spontaneous” performance of their Oscar-nominated “Endless Love,” called on the Roots to join in was pretty great, and a reminder of how important music is to the Fallon equation.

All in all, the premier was as good as it could have been, but it was also very much a premier. It was all about it being Fallon’s first time, and about the show being back in New York. It will really be months before we see what the show really is. But based on this preview, I’m definitely look forward to it.

Ron and Hermione Will Always Be Together Where It Counts

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Over the weekend the internet veritably exploded when J.K. Rowling revealed that she had some regrets about pairing off Ron and Hermione at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly  Hallows.

“For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron,” Rowling said, and went on to suggest that Hermione might have been better ending up with Harry. Cue fan rage (or joy, depending on who you’re shipping).

Now despite the fact that I unequivocally believe that Rowling is wrong (the thirteen-year-old in me wants a shirt that says “Ron and Hermione Forever”), the mere fact that she is speaking out now about what she should or shouldn’t have done in books that were published years ago is also incredibly wrong.

The inner English major in me wants to talk  about authorial intent, so bear with me.  I have always thought authorial intent is basically a croc. No matter what the person who actually put the words on the page wants, all we (as readers) have to actually deal with are those words. And we can interpret them as best we can, and we can be wrong and we can think things should have gone differently, but we cannot change them, and neither can a passing remark by the author.

Rowling’s admissions since The Deathly Hallows was published have only served to add to the extratextual world of the books, even though they come directly from the mouth of the creator. It’s not a part of the seven books that make up the story. It’s extraneous. If Rowling really wanted to change something, or add to the world that she has created, she need only to write a prequel or a sequel, to put more words on pages and give her readers a chance to interpret them.

I’ve written about this before, but I am bothered when the metanarrative surrounding any given story interferes with the actual narrative. With Harry Potter, that has often been the changes and contributions made by the movies, which were the entry point of many into this particular world. And despite the fact that the movies are just an adaptation, so separate from the books, they are big and bombastic and inevitably they can seep into the minds of readers.

A really unfortunate aspect of the movies was that, dealing with actors who had been cast when they were 11, the romantic chemistry never really worked out when they were teenagers. Poor Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had no spark between them, but there was certainly something going on between Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, adding fuel to the Harry/Hermione fire (it also didn’t help that Radcliffe had no chemistry with Bonnie Wright’s Ginny, but the bastardization of Ginny’s character in the movies is a whole other issue that I could write at length about).

The thing about Harry Potter is that these books are deeply personal for a great deal of people, myself included. Every detail, from the death scenes to the quidditch matches to the romances are important and meant something specific to each reader. As an extremely nerdy kid with wild brown hair, the character of Hermione was incredibly important to me. The slow burn of her relationship with Ron made perfect sense, and the moment when they kissed and actually admitted they belonged together was vindicating. A rare moment of joy in a book that caused me a considerable number of tears. But Rowling’s statements threaten to take that joy away, to change an experience that I treasure.

But the truth is, that experience can’t be changed because the books can never be changed. Now until forever, Hermione and Ron will always end up together, Harry and Ginny will always get married and Dumbledore will remain a perpetually single man whose sexuality was never even relevant. So while I really think Rowling should probably keep any more regrets about the series to herself, it doesn’t matter what else she says. All I need to do is crack open the end of Deathly Hallows again, and there Ron and Hermione are, together.