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Did Jimmy Fallon Play It Too Safe with ‘Tonight Show’ Debut? Critics Weigh In

Did Jimmy Fallon Play It Too Safe with 'Tonight Show' Debut? Critics Weigh In

Jimmy Fallon had his debut episode of the “Tonight Show” February 17 (with Seth Meyers in turn taking over Fallon’s old post at “Late Night” next Monday). Critics are weighing in this morning, and running the gamut: the Daily Beast calls the episode “brilliant,” while the LA Times was less impressed, saying the show was “strangely muted.” 

In that vein, it’s interesting to note that the term “subdued” was used by both the New York Times and CNN, suggesting that Fallon’s tone toward the show was more safe and reverential than it was bold.

Entertainment Weekly, however, was generally a fan of the Leno heir, saying of Fallon in a B+ review: “He’s confident; he’s casual; he’s well-adjusted.” 

The buzzy debut seemingly resounded with viewers, as it nabbed a 7.1 rating, 80% higher than the combined overnight rating for Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman.

Check out a roundup of critical responses below, plus clips.

The Daily Beast:

Jimmy Fallon has scaled the highest height in television and
is now posed proudly at the pinnacle. Having risen very visibly through the
ranks of TV fame—from featured player on Saturday Night Live to host of his own
very-late-night TV show, he is host of the newly renovated, Manhattan-based,
blindingly shiny Tonight Show, the premiere of which proved emphatically and
immaculately entertaining on NBC last night.

New York Times:

But throughout the show, Mr. Fallon made nice more than he
made jokes. It was notable that when he brought up thank-you notes, he wasn’t
introducing his popular letter-writing skit. Instead he congratulated Mr. Smith
on the good manners of his daughter, Willow, 13, marveling that after he sang
one of her songs a few years ago, Willow wrote him a polite thank-you letter on
proper stationery.

Mr. Fallon is a charming and gifted comedian who on his
first night chose to be subdued and at times even serious. That said as much
about the uncertain future of “Tonight” as it did about its new host.

LA Times:

As if determined to distance himself further from the
high-octane opening antics of the last new guy who tried to do this job —
O’Brien — Fallon entered stage center in a muted gray suit. And if he didn’t
go as far as apologizing for becoming the sixth man to host “The Tonight Show,”
he did rigorously, and at times irritatingly, reaffirm his signature
humility.“I just want to take care of the show for a while,” he explained,
adding that “if you guys let me stick around long enough, maybe I’ll get the
hang of it.”

Entertainment Weekly:

But it could be that Fallon would prefer altogether not to
do anything too bold with the format; that he sees himself as a proud curator,
both of The Tonight Show‘s history and of a happy-place performance space where
Will Smith can nod along at the end of the couch to a U2 acoustic performance.
He’s confident; he’s casual; he’s well-adjusted; he’s got the Roots. “This is
exciting!” he said at the start of the show, before helpfully reiterating, “I
couldn’t be more excited.” Time-slot rival Jimmy Kimmel is the inheritor of the
Letterman tradition: Too cool for school. Fallon is the guy who thinks school
is pretty cool.


His first joke out of the way, he spent the next few minutes
introducing himself to the audience — his childhood, his family, his career.
He was pretty subdued through it all.

But then when the formalities were out of the way, he
re-entered the show through the gigantic blue curtains — the ever-hip Roots
playing him in — and started his show proper: the usual monologue and his
usual over-eager but gracious self.

The laughs came easy.

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I was eagerly awaiting Jimmy's approach to the Tonight show and was chagrined that he spent most of the time talking about himself, all week, and presenting his guests as "good friends" each, involving himself in performance with them as if to prove he was hip and cool. Those segments went too long. His constant humility about himself being on the show was annoying. He obviously earned the position, but he needs to occupy the position without his best friends and letting his screaming very young clients scream for far too long after each segment or introduction. Johnny's gift was a low key intro of the guest and them enjoying and allowing them to be the center of attention. Jimmy appears to have the need to inject himself into the entertainment, lessening the uniqueness and power of the stars to a skit-like, party-like parody of what made them famous and wanting to be a part of it. Jimmy has much talent, but as host, he has to remember that he is host. En fin, I still like Jimmy but am disappointed by his intrusive approach to his guests and his too ingratiating "gosh, I hope I do well" mantra. He has not shown his own unique humor, personality or level-headedness yet. This is a let-down…not fatal but trying.

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