Sunday, March 11, 2012

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon 2/24: Paul Rudd

I'm almost not sure what to say about another episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon -- my first piece on the show a couple weeks ago kind of exhausted my comments on the format, and the content is by design not supposed to have a lot of depth (although sometimes the most interesting media can be that which is ostensibly shallow).  But my patented Episodist Random-Episode-O-Tron has pointed me towards it once again, so here are a couple observations on another episode of Fallon's little corner of late-night.

-This week is "Broadway Week", which at this point in the week consists of Fallon standing in front of a theatre plugging the show before the opening credits and a song from a Broadway musical instead of the usual indy-rock guests.  Still, it's nice to have a theme that separates this episode from the standard installment of Late Night, even though that mainly amounts to discovering in the interviews that apparently every celebrity has done a stint on Broadway at one point or another.  Since Fallon announces in this episode that next week will be "Bruce Springsteen week", apparently the theme idea is sticking around.

The Broadway performance this night -- a medley from Sister Act -- comes off pretty badly despite being the only Broadway-related thing on the show.  Songs from musicals are rarely great outside of their context, and this one in particular is a confused number where a bunch of people sing ecstatically in nun costumes for no apparent reason -- and if you wanted to see that, you could go to church.

-Speaking of hacky jokes...

The opening monologue still isn't very good, which is half because of the canned current-events "zinger" humour and half because Fallon is still uncomfortable doing stand-up.  Tonight's desk segment, which has basically the same kind of topic-joke-move on format, this time with a strained "Thank You note" theme attached, is mysteriously much funnier, although a lot of the punchlines are still sort of obvious.  Maybe there's a different pool of writers that work on these segments, or maybe it's just that the desk segment uses less zeitgest-y topics, ranging out for jokes about TV cliffhangers, sit-ups, and Popeye.  Or maybe it's just the "sentimental" music cue constantly re-starting, which flips between being annoying and hilarious like any good repeating gag.

-This episode's main guest is Paul Rudd, who is okay.  It's one of those moments where you expect a comedic actor to give funny interviews, but in his appearance here he just seems like a regular guy who occasionally makes an okay joke.  Rudd is a fairly popular actor, but he hasn't really developed a persona -- he can't "play Paul Rudd", and that makes for a forgettable, if perhaps unusually honest[1], interview.

The second segment eschews the usual game format for another, slightly rarer Fallon standby, the weird fantasy segment, in which Fallon and Rudd talk about (and display posters for) a realm of imaginary B-movies they starred in.  It's only really weird by the thoroughly mainstream standards of  late-night talk shows, but it is a nice twist on the usual snow job, and there's almost an endearing love for shitty movies that makes the later plug for a Tyler Perry film seem almost heartfelt.  The only issue, and this is one of Fallon's likeable flaws, is the inability of both guys (but mostly Jimmy) to keep a straight face.

-Movie promoters need to do a better job picking clips to show. The one for the movie Paul Rudd is ostensibly here to promote, Wanderlust, is a generic piece of lol-hippie jokes that doesn't really make me want to see the film but at least is a theoretically comedic scene.  When Gabrielle Union comes on, the clip for the Tyler Perry movie she's doing seems to be all set-up for some later joke that never comes.  Either something is going wrong at the switchbox or (and this is depressingly more likely) these are actually the best moments of the movie.

-Still, for all the ordinariness of this night's show, there are still some moments of strangeness poking through that make it worthwhile.  (Strangeness is latent in almost every piece of commercial fluff, it's just a question of how much the creators let it be expressed.)  Memorably, the keyboardist of The Roots spends an entire segment wearing googly eyes for no reason, with the camera constantly cutting back to him while Fallon tries to go about with his scheduled bit, as if pretending that nothing is going on.  With a bit lower budget and more strange facial hair, this could almost pass as a Tim & Eric segment highlighting the strangeness of conventional TV.

There's another moment of weirdness during the Rudd interview, when Rudd and Fallon set up the clip, but instead of cutting to the film clip it shows... a clip from Rudd's interview on David Letterman, with the exact same dialogue setting up the exact same clip.  This seems like a way of both guys calling out themselves on their artificiality and their replacability as cogs in the great media-promotion machine, and it works especially well because both of the exchanges seem natural in and of themselves -- it's only when placed together that the artificial convenience of them starts to stink).

(I'm half convinced that this is just something added into my avi by a merry band of pirates, because the two guys on screen don't react to it much.  If it is, big ups to the pirates for being creative in their vandalism.  If it's not, big ups to the show for a genuinely surprising moment.)

I'm not going to say that strange moments like these are what I watch the show for -- that's a cop-out, like saying you read Playboy for the articles.  The benign talk-show comedy, as easy as it is to mock and criticize, is also a genuine pleasure most of the time.  But it's the moments where the show bursts at its seams, where it shows awareness of its own limitations and is willing to scratch if not smash those walls, that I get snapped out of my stupor and sit up and take interest.

Next Week: "You go to the deepest heart of Appalachia, you will not find a town smaller than Chicago."

[1] I want to use "honest" here as distinguished from "candid", which means putting on a cry-ey face and airing strategically planned dirty laundry.  Sometimes, being honest means being boring.

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