By Caryn James | James on Screens February 25, 2014 at 10:13AM
On Seth Meyers' Late Night desk, there's the apparently necessary and apparently useless talk-show host's mug full of pencils, but look more closely and you can also see a tiny doll of Stefon wearing a wedding veil, an homage to the hilarious fake wedding of Bill Hader's Stefon character to his beloved, Seth from SNL's Weekend Update. On his first show, Meyers didn't try to remake the talk show formula. He set himself apart in smaller touches llike that, and one big, important difference: himself. His was the most self-assured late-night debut in memory, and Meyers is an ideal host, with a sharply satirical wit yet plenty of personal warmth.
That is a tougher combination than you might think. Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show has quickly settled into a version of his Late Night, which is great for comedy but still worrisome for interviews. Fallon is so excitable that his enthusiasm can be exhausting, and eventually hard to buy; if everything is so great, no particular guest or musician seems very special. Meyers' humor is wry, his presence more low-key. Cooler but always likable, he's closer to early Letterman, before he became cranky Dave -- and for my taste, that's a huge complement, better than being the next slick Johnny Carson.
Meyers' monologue was like Weekend Update while standing, which is another way of realizing
that his Weekend Update was consistently
good. It was an inspired touch to make Fred Armisen the bandleader. The music hasn't
registered much so far, but Armisen was the perfect comic sidekick, with a
deadpan conversation about his new History Channel show about really recent
history, things that happen in the last hour or so. It's a relief not to have
an announcer and a bandleader, so let's
hope that's one of the small changes the show keeps.
And Meyers was totally at ease with his guests. It helped
that the first was his old Weekend Update
cohort Amy Poehler, followed by Vice President Joe Biden. Poehler and Biden
actually make a great team too. Biden was clearly there to be congenial and not talk about anything heavy on premiere night.
The rest test, of course, will come when Meyers has less
familiar and easy guests, including politicians he'll have to challenge. Even this week he's bringing on a wider range, from
authors to sports figures.
Late Night has
always been the show that can take more risks than Tonight, and there's time for that. But after its first episode, Late Night with Seth Meyers has
instantly become one of my favorite shows.