Several months after NBC's shake-up of their late night show line-up, the show that has really grown on me is Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I enjoyed Conan from time to time in his old slot, but his new show conflicts with Colbert and my loyalties, as a long time Daily Show stalwart at this point, are obviously with "the nation"...
I'll admit that I actually enjoyed some of Fallon's tenure on SNL, but I did think that he didn't have as much talent as some of the others in that show's illustrious history. Certainly, I thought his attempt at a movie career was a bad idea. Fair to say that I wasn't enthusiastic about the idea of him hosting a late night show, but I also wasn't that skeptical.
Hulu and a few choice guests encouraged me to catch the show, and I've been slowly becoming more hooked. The show excels when Jimmy Fallon's sense of childish, nerdy humor is on full display. Fallon is obviously a fan of video games, and his attempts at covering game releases as if they were big movie releases have been well appreciated. Fallon also is sometimes at his most relaxed and funny when behind a older, fatter style of microphone, reminiscent of the one that Bob Barker seemingly refused to relinquish, that he brings out for silly recurring mini-games.
As Jimmy Fallon gets into the rhythm of doing the show every night and shirks his initial nervousness, the show gains strength. Fallon can make excellent use of his SNL talents, including some of his better impressions, and unlike SNL it is even more likely that a break in character is more helpful than hurtful in the talk show format.
What really makes the show standout, however, is the music and the musical comedy. It still seems that Jimmy Fallon is as surprised as many viewers that The Roots joins him as his stage band every night. If The Roots hadn't already proven themselves as multi-talented wizards, this show would do it. Fallon refers to them as "the best stage band in late night", and it isn't hyperbole, as possibly they are also the historical best and maybe even an apex never to be repeated. No other late night show makes you as envious of the audience members as Jimmy Fallon's makes you wish to catch more of the interstitial music of The Roots. Particularly with the regularity that musical guests stop by and sit in with them for the duration of a show. I'm still surprised that an enterprising advertiser (or Hulu) hasn't put the work into extended cut nights with more of The Roots performing.
The Roots are awesome because they also have a great sense of humor and a great sense of improv. They call up all kinds of wild songs for guest walk-ins, often somehow connected to the guest or their name and often being a musical pun of some sort. Two favorites off the top of my head were playing on Jason Sudeikis to one of his "Jon Bovi" songs and Rashida Jones to "Ann's Song", written by Andy from Parks and Recreation. It's becoming somewhat common for guests to begin their interview explaining the in-joke behind the song to the audience.
The Roots are quick on the pickup and more often than not, even the hint of Jimmy Fallon or a guest breaking out into song will encourage them to play along. Some of the smarter mini-games take advantage of this, such as Rush Limbaugh Karaoke. Jimmy Fallon himself shows a great talent for musical impressions (which surprised me considering how unsuccessful some of his SNL attempts seemed), and generally surprising and fun when worked into the show. His Neil Young (spoiler alert) "Bel-Air" video is hilarious by virtue of being spot on. His "Slow Jam the News" segments are just the kind of thing that he needs more of to spice up the traditional monologue/news jokes format of late night television.
It's good late night entertainment, and I'm curious to see where it goes, given the journey it has already taken in less than two hundred shows.