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Did Jimmy Fallon Play It Too Safe with 'Tonight Show' Debut? Critics Weigh In

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood February 18, 2014 at 1:55PM

Jimmy Fallon had his debut episode of the "Tonight Show" February 17 (with Seth Meyers in turn taking over Fallon's old post at "Late Night" next Monday). Critics are weighing in this morning, and running the gamut: the Daily Beast calls the episode "brilliant," while the LA Times was less impressed, saying the show was "strangely muted."
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Jimmy Fallon on 'The Tonight Show'
Jimmy Fallon on 'The Tonight Show'

Jimmy Fallon had his debut episode of the "Tonight Show" February 17 (with Seth Meyers in turn taking over Fallon's old post at "Late Night" next Monday). Critics are weighing in this morning, and running the gamut: the Daily Beast calls the episode "brilliant," while the LA Times was less impressed, saying the show was "strangely muted." 

In that vein, it's interesting to note that the term "subdued" was used by both the New York Times and CNN, suggesting that Fallon's tone toward the show was more safe and reverential than it was bold.

Entertainment Weekly, however, was generally a fan of the Leno heir, saying of Fallon in a B+ review: "He's confident; he's casual; he's well-adjusted." 

The buzzy debut seemingly resounded with viewers, as it nabbed a 7.1 rating, 80% higher than the combined overnight rating for Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman.

Check out a roundup of critical responses below, plus clips.

The Daily Beast:

Jimmy Fallon has scaled the highest height in television and is now posed proudly at the pinnacle. Having risen very visibly through the ranks of TV fame—from featured player on Saturday Night Live to host of his own very-late-night TV show, he is host of the newly renovated, Manhattan-based, blindingly shiny Tonight Show, the premiere of which proved emphatically and immaculately entertaining on NBC last night.

New York Times:

But throughout the show, Mr. Fallon made nice more than he made jokes. It was notable that when he brought up thank-you notes, he wasn’t introducing his popular letter-writing skit. Instead he congratulated Mr. Smith on the good manners of his daughter, Willow, 13, marveling that after he sang one of her songs a few years ago, Willow wrote him a polite thank-you letter on proper stationery.

Mr. Fallon is a charming and gifted comedian who on his first night chose to be subdued and at times even serious. That said as much about the uncertain future of “Tonight” as it did about its new host.

LA Times:

As if determined to distance himself further from the high-octane opening antics of the last new guy who tried to do this job -- O’Brien -- Fallon entered stage center in a muted gray suit. And if he didn’t go as far as apologizing for becoming the sixth man to host “The Tonight Show,” he did rigorously, and at times irritatingly, reaffirm his signature humility.“I just want to take care of the show for a while,” he explained, adding that “if you guys let me stick around long enough, maybe I’ll get the hang of it.”

Entertainment Weekly:

But it could be that Fallon would prefer altogether not to do anything too bold with the format; that he sees himself as a proud curator, both of The Tonight Show‘s history and of a happy-place performance space where Will Smith can nod along at the end of the couch to a U2 acoustic performance. He’s confident; he’s casual; he’s well-adjusted; he’s got the Roots. “This is exciting!” he said at the start of the show, before helpfully reiterating, “I couldn’t be more excited.” Time-slot rival Jimmy Kimmel is the inheritor of the Letterman tradition: Too cool for school. Fallon is the guy who thinks school is pretty cool.

CNN:

His first joke out of the way, he spent the next few minutes introducing himself to the audience -- his childhood, his family, his career. He was pretty subdued through it all.

But then when the formalities were out of the way, he re-entered the show through the gigantic blue curtains -- the ever-hip Roots playing him in -- and started his show proper: the usual monologue and his usual over-eager but gracious self.

The laughs came easy.

This article is related to: Television, Television, TV, TV Reviews, TV News, Jimmy Fallon


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.