March 3, 2009 / 10:37 PM / in 10 years

Jimmy Fallon off to an uneven start, as expected

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - So what is it now, all of the new breed of late-night talk show hosts have to be named Jimmy? First Kimmel, now Fallon. Not that the two guys have a whole lot in common save for their whiteness and smart-aleck irreverence.

In his kickoff hour on Monday in Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” chair — which of course was originally David Letterman’s chair — the “Saturday Night Live” alum and occasional film actor gave his best impression of a deer caught in the headlights wile at the same time exhibiting flashes of comic flair.

He tried too hard, stumbled over his punchlines and struggled to make Robert De Niro seem interesting (good luck on that one). It may not have been the smartest decision to feature two guests who don’t do a lot of talk shows in De Niro and Justin Timberlake. But Timberlake was actually superb, and it never hurts to have a legend like Van Morrison perform a song on your first show.

Looking a bit like the love child of Bob Costas and Chris Kattan, Fallon — decked out in a black suit and looking terminally clean-cut — opened with a fairly traditional monologue that drew few laughs, followed by a couple of prepared bits that were long on ambition but failed to connect. One was a “slow-jam of the news” that lent ‘70s soul from his terrific house band, hip-hoppers the Roots, to the host’s lyrical news presentation. He then invited audience members up to lick inanimate objects for $10, a one-joke concept that extended for several.

Then out came De Niro, a friend doing Fallon a favor in making a rare talk-show appearance. Fallon made a joke of not being able to draw De Niro out. Didn’t work. But he was rescued by Timberlake, who was ebullient in doing dead-on impressions of John Mayer and Michael McDonald.

Fallon figures to take a while to find his rhythm, much as was the case with O’Brien before him. He didn’t come across on Night 1 like a natural in the chair so much as a comic who does great impressions doing his awkward best to put the spotlight on his guests. But the truth is it really isn’t entirely fair to judge a guy on his first night on a very big and bright stage. Fallon is certainly talented enough to deserve a chance to make a go of it. The problem these days is there’s no patience for slow builds, so the guy had best get comfy fast.

Editing by Dean Goodman at Reuters

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