Tag Archives: Andy Richter

Who is Conan‘s Conan?: A Personal Response to TBS’ Conan

Who is Conan‘s Conan?: A Personal Response

November 8th, 2010

Watching Conan was a bit of a bizarre experience. Admittedly, I am not a regular viewer of Late Night, but Conan O’ Brien is probably the host that I enjoy the most, and so I was curious (if not necessarily outright excited) for him to return to the airwaves. And so I tuned into TBS for the debut of his new series, a debut which stems from a ridiculous and controversial transition at NBC, and…it was a bit weird.

It’s especially weird coming out of a period where the idea of Conan O’Brien, which is frankly what I would call myself a fan of, was all we had: with just a Twitter feed to sustain us, the mythology of Conan in the “Team Coco” era actually seemed to get a bit out of control. Once a cult favorite among younger demographics, stuck at 12:30, Conan has become a national symbol of the downtrodden despite becoming filthy rich in the process. As a result, while I am glad that Conan is back on television, I no longer have that sense that he exists as a counter to the establishment, as an odd duck who does what Leno does with a subversive edge that sets him apart.

Instead, Conan’s difference has become a commodity, and the result is a premiere which relies so heavily on recent history that it obscures what precipitated his rise to folk heroism in such a way that boils his act down to the past year of his career.

Which results in a funny hour of late night television, but one which fits more comfortably into broader public discourse than Conan’s history would suggest. The following is not a judgment of the series, impossible since it has aired only a single episode, but an effort to understand why I responded to the premiere in this way.

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Last Night with Conan O’Brien: Goodbye to the Tonight Show

I’m sorry, Conan.

I didn’t watch your Tonight Show. At 11:35, I’m more likely to be writing about television than watching it, and for that I truly have to apologize. I was part of the problem, part of the group of people who celebrated Conan O’Brien’s rise to the Tonight Show but who never bothered to keep tuning in. I watched a few episodes early on, and enjoyed the feeling of pride that “my” host pushing out Jay Leno, but then when push came to shove I was content with knowing Conan was there.

I know it’s not my fault: even if Conan’s ratings had been incrementally better, chances are that NBC still would have made the decision to push his show back, and this whole mess would still be happening. And considering that Conan is walking away with an enormous severance package and will likely be back on our televisions within a year, it’s not as if the man himself is truly losing his job and left without a chance of success.

But there is something tragic about seeing someone robbed of doing what he loved, and robbed of doing it on the stage he always dreamed of. He left this job because he felt as if NBC was disrespecting its legacy, and like the consummate professional he is Conan showed an enormous amount of respect for both the Tonight Show’s legacy and his time at NBC in the midst of his final goodbye to the network and the show he feels he is leaving a decade too early. While no one is crying for Coco, considering the severance he received, I don’t think any of us can deny him the right to cry: his tears felt genuine, a love letter to the people who brought him to where he is and a final curtain to a run at NBC that took him from comedy writer to national sensation.

His final episode (and mine) of The Tonight Show was one hundred percent Conan, one hundred percent heartfelt, and hopefully just a small percentage of what’s to come.

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Late Night Changeover: The Debut of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien

TonightShowConanI don’t feel that I’m really qualified to be “reviewing” the first hour of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.

First of all, I don’t actually watch much Late Night television: I’ll check out the odd monologue, or watch the occasional comedy sketch, but for the most part the focus on interviews has become more and more irrelevant in our information overload culture. My generation just doesn’t watch as much late night comedy, and when we do it’s Stewart/Colbert before it’s Leno/Letterman.

Second, if I did watch Late Night television, it wasn’t The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The show was everything that was wrong with late night: Leno wasn’t actually all that funny, and while he was good at getting the “right” interview for his guests’ promotional needs that isn’t exactly a reason for me to tune in. Considering that I don’t like Leno to begin with, and that he’s ruining NBC’s schedule (that’s all I’ll say on that subject), I can’t really judge this based on whether Conan lives up to Leno’s legacy (which I don’t really respect to begin with, it appears).

And third, I think Conan O’Brien is a hilarious human being, his awkwardness representing a great connecting point for me as a viewer; whether his taste in music, his taste in guests, or more recently his gut-busting comedy he managed during the strike without any writers, Conan has consistently impressed me at every turn. Although certainly not young, Conan has nonetheless been the host who felt most in touch with my generation’s late night needs.

So, really, what am I going to say that I couldn’t tell you before the show airs: I’m going to think Conan is funny, I’m going to think he’s funnier than Letterman, and my lack of nostalgia for Leno’s Tonight Show means I think it’s legacy has actually been more or less saved pop culturally speaking. As a result, it is with all objectivity out the window that I tell you that Conan O’Brien is still Conan O’Brien, the Tonight Show is different than it used to be, and one would hope that this improvement would be reflected in the show’s success.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Suburbs”

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“Chuck vs. The Suburbs”

February 16th, 2009

“We can’t go back there – it was just a cover.”

There has always been a certain question of how, precisely, Chuck is going to be able to manage to draw out the relationship between its eponymous hero and his handler/cover girlfriend Sarah. The “will they/won’t they” of the scenario could get old quickly, something that nobody really wants to see happen when Levy and Strahovski actually have a lot of chemistry and the episodes that focus on the intricacies of their relationship, like “Chuck vs. The Suburbs” are amongst the show’s most resonant.

The episode is a sign, though, that there is going to come a point where we can’t keep getting the same memo over and over again. While bringing Chuck and Sarah to the brink of a real relationship before tearing it away from them might have worked the first time around, or even the second, we’re getting to the point where it doesn’t really have the same impact. Changing their cover from “dating” to “married” and placing them in the confines of a happy suburbia with a golden retriever and a whole bunch of photoshopped photos of a happy couple is a pretty good setup for this part of the series’ identity, but I feel as if things are beginning to wear somewhat thin.

And yet, this is all in theory: in theory this episode shouldn’t work, its central theme of “we can’t return to something that wasn’t real” being something that the show has dealt with numerous times, but in practice Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski bring so much pathos to these scenes that it feels like the honeymoon is still ongoing long after the post-wedding bliss should have ended. And that’s a testament to the show’s quality, even if I feel they’re tempting fate at this point in the show’s run.

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