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Conan O’Brien returns, Twitter goes crazy

In television on 11/09/2010 at 8:03 am

I watched Conan for two hours last night. Which is to say, I watched Twitter watch Conan O’Brien’s new show starting at 11 p.m. ET, when it debuted in the U.S. on cable station TBS, and then I watched the actual show’s Canadian debut at midnight on the Comedy Network.

It’s a wierd way to watch, I’ll grant you that, and I recommend the actual TV watching, but Twitter was firing like the little engine that could and I couldn’t stop reading (I searched any tweet with the word “conan” in it). Plus, as O’Brien himself said during the show debut last night, less than a year after his departure from his beloved and yanked-from-under-him Tonight Show on NBC, he owes this all to Twitter. Owes his rebirth, having risen from the initial news of Jay Leno’s return and his ouster to his full comic height, stepping into the legend of Coco that he and his fans co-created in the weeks that the show counted down. He followed that with a summer comedy tour and with a fall of heavily hyped and tweeted and facebooked promotion. And, on the show last night, he followed that with a little mockery of Twitter and the Internet at large. Going all bucktoothed and thumbing furiously on an imaginary smart phone, he looked over to sidekick Andy Richter, off camera, and said, “I can’t do this! I owe it all to them.” And then he did it some more.

Which was perfect, not just because Twitter needs to be mocked a bit each day (which it does), but because it’s great to see somebody using Twitter for other than “Watch my show!”. And great to see someone growing comfortable with Twitter rather than becoming a keening, begging “Hey like me!” tag-along, as Jimmy Fallon did in the early days of Late Night (better now, I think), which he took over when O’Brien went west to replace Leno for those few months. Twitter doesn’t want to be revered. It wants Coco. And it got Coco.

On Twitter last night, the commentary ranged from the predictable yammering (coco we love you! 15 minutes and can’t wait for coco!) and the spoilerish tweeting of his monologue phrase by phrase, to inspired tweeting, from both critics and comedy colleagues.

From James Poniewozik, of Time magazine, came this sly jab at how anticipated the show had become:

@Poniewozik: Have procured 3 lab rats with diabetes, deafness, cancer. Can’t wait to see which one(s) first #Conan episode cures!

From Michael Ian Black, (Ed, Michael and Michael Have Issues), a jab from Team Coco:

@michaelianblack: Conan’s desk is funnier than Jay Leno.

Of course, not everyone loved everything (although I guess Denny would disagree):

@ChrisRodemeyer: Conan’s set looks like a Denny’s.

And it wouldn’t be a night on Twitter if some users didn’t get annoyed that there was too much or not the right kind of tweeting:

@kenjfuj: TBS will have these #conan episodes online, right? ‘Cause reading all these tweets is damn near agonizing.”

But enough about Twitter, you say? What about the TV show? Alright then.

Coco is back and no, the new show Conan didn’t cure either cancer, diabetes or deafness in James Poniewozik control group of lab rats. In fact, it didn’t even catch fire in the way that O’Brien did in the last couple of weeks of his run on the Tonight Show. I had half hoped for that outrageous, furious comedy. Had fully hoped for a shaving of the beard. But in the end, I got a cozy talk show that reminded me of his Late Night stint: a little off the wall, slightly (endearingly) awkward interviewing style, goofy fun. And that was not a bad thing.

After a video opening in which he was gunned down several times by NBC mafia, he tugged a little on the hip strings or whatever the hell he calls that dance, he busted a few robot moves and, at the 11 minute mark, he welcomed back the masturbating bear. Then he did hosted guests Seth Rogen, Lea Michele and performed with Jack White, with whom he’s recorded a few things over the past few months.

Compared to his jittery trying-too-hard Tonight Show debut, last night O’Brien looked relaxed and as if he were really enjoying himself.

“Welcome to my second annual first show,” he said, following shortly thereafter with, “People asked me why I named the show Conan, I did it so I’d be harder to replace.”

You can read the entire opening monologue here, with thanks to Entertainment Weekly.

As for sidekick Richter, thank god he’s no longer stuck at the edge of the stage standing behind a podium. Last night he was loose, silly. When O’Brien’s demonstration of his motorized 3D moon left the moon wobbling over Richter’s head, he exlaimed, “There’s Mayans watching this and freaking out!” No? Had to be there.

The set, as such things go, was nice enough. Very blue. I like the moon. And I loved O’Brien’s extended commentary, after a crashing sound during his interivew with Lea Michele, about having to share the space with a muffler shop to pay the bills.

I did not love the camerawork. The camera was more than a step behind during most of the monologue, which is disorienting when the performer strides as far and as often as O’Brien. It was a little like watching the first couple of NHL games of the season shot in U.S. rinks, where it’s clear the cameramen still wish the puck was highlighted so they’d have half a chance of following the action. This, like the hockey coverage, will get better.

Guests for the rest of the week:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 9Tom Hanks, Jack McBrayer and musical guest Soundgarden
  • Wednesday, Nov. 10Jon Hamm, Charlyne Yi and musical guest Fistful of Mercy
  • Thursday, Nov. 11 – Michael Cera, Julie Bowen and TV’s Jon Dore

So what did you think? And did you also watch the coverage on Twitter?

Denise Duguay


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