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.
July 12th, 2009
This review is going to be hugely hypocritical for anyone who’s followed my…less than friendly relationship with Entourage.
See, I’ve always been of the mind that the show is at its best when it engages with its dramatic elements, and taps into something beyond “four bros hanging out.” It’s not a particularly popular opinion, as nearly everyone seems to disagree with me and lists their main reason for watching the show as “four bros hanging out,” but it’s the way the show works for me. And last season, I just kept getting more and more frustrated: the show had numerous opportunities to really engage with some real disruptions to Vince and E’s relationship, and to shake things up a little bit, and yet they refused to take them, leaving the dynamic intact as Vince’s career skyrockets.
So, on that criteria, I should have been really happy with “Drive,” which returns to the narrative with Vince riding a wave of Gatsby-related success but drifting apart from E, who is becoming successful in his own right and beginning to see the benefit of being more independent. The result is actually a really subtle statement about maturity, coupled with a couple of periphery storylines and a distinct lack of highly manufactured drama. Really, the episode should have been everything I should like in a half hour of Entourage: a little sex, a little drama, and more pathos than 99% of the show’s normal viewers like to see.
But, for a variety of reasons, I found this episode to be shockingly pedestrian in a way that baffles me. There was no zing to the one-liners, no bite to Ari Gold, and a distinct lack of any sort of dynamic between the signature foursome. While I’m actually kind of intrigued to see where they go from here, this half hour is the exact opposite of any of my past experiences: while before I found the plot lacking but enjoyed the show’s broad comedy for what it was, here I found absolutely nothing funny or clever to the point where even a storyline I should have liked did nothing for me.
Call me a hypocrite all you want, but this “Drive” never got out of first gear.