TV Review – The Late Show With Stephen Colbert: Sept. 8, 2015
Colbert is a 51-year-old comedian from Washington, DC, who has worked on various programs such as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, but it was his eponymous character on The Colbert Report, which mocked right-wing, political pundits that got him the most acclaim. He started doing it in 2005 and has become so associated with the character that many critics wonder if viewers will be able to disassociate him from that character and accept a different form of comedy from him.
The very first seconds of the show was a musical bit that felt very reminiscent of The Colbert Report. Colbert sang the national anthem standing straight and looking directly into the camera with various people standing next to him also singing. He started singing on a little league, baseball field. The scene then cut to Colbert standing in various other places all around the country, singing with various people, sometimes in awkward or unlikely places like a field of crops or a construction area with noises that drowned out the song and occasional bad singing. It was reminiscent of his previous program because of the super or irrepressible patriotic nature of it all.
Like Ellen DeGeneres in the opening of every episode of her show, Colbert did a little dance, or rather high-kicks and a repeated twirl all to the musical stylings of the show’s new house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human. Jon Batiste is a jazz musician who began his band in 2005, the same year as The Colbert Report. It would take nine years before Batiste and his band was invited onto The Colbert Report, but Colbert was so impressed that he asked Batiste to be the regular act on the CBS show. Unfortunately, Colbert didn’t allow Batiste to speak during the premiere episode, but hopefully that’s forthcoming.
As was the case on The Colbert Report, the crowd welcomed the host by chanting “Stephen! Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!” until the jovial comic had to tell them to stop. Colbert proceeded with his monologue, which was a little bland, a bit soft. He made rather easy-going jokes about his upcoming guests Oscar-winner George Clooney and Governor Jeb Bush. There was a bit involving Les Moonves, the president of CBS, who had a comical switch that could preempt the show with a re-run of The Mentalist. The bit had potential but was not well executed or fleshed out.
The opening credits-sequence was actually the most incredible thing about the show’s first segment. That credits-sequence looked like it’s partially stop-motion animation depicting a minature of New York City in bright, daylight with a tiny Colbert playing within it. It led to the revelation that Colbert himself is the announcer, which he apparently does live on set.
Colbert then did the requisite tribute to David Letterman. He did a surprising, brief tribute to Biff Henderson, Letterman’s long-time, stage manager. It would have been great if in that moment, Colbert would have introduced his new stage manager or something, other than perpetuating the narcissistic quality that was a signature of his previous program.
Colbert then showed off the redesigned Ed Sullivan Theater from which the show is broadcast. The look of it is great, incorporating the old look with similar designs from the Comedy Central set. The colors, red, white and blue, are very prominent. There was a nice cameo from Jon Stewart, but nicer was the cameo by Jimmy Fallon. Obviously, Fallon is the host of The Tonight Show on the rival network NBC. For decades, CBS and NBC have been in fierce battle with each other over the late-night position, fueled by the rivalry, real or imagined, between Letterman and former NBC host Jay Leno. The appearance of Fallon together with Colbert probably squashes any future rivalry that might be put on these two new hosts.
After the first commercial, Colbert settled into a desk joke that felt very much like his old program, or very much like The Daily Show. Colbert took on Donald Trump whose latest attacks in the media were aimed at the Nabisco company, makers of the famous Oreo cookie. This desk bit felt particularly interesting because it was as much a joke aimed at Trump’s ridiculous statements and the media’s inability to ignore it, as it was a joke about himself perhaps being unable to ignore or move away from jokes and a style that he’s been doing for nearly a decade. In the end, Colbert succumbs to the appeal of the Oreo, which may or may not be a sign of things to come.
His first guest George Clooney felt a little awkward as the first topic of discussion was Darfur. Yet, Colbert turned it around and led into a great bit involving Clooney who wasn’t here to promote a movie ending up promoting a fake movie called “Decision Strike.” Fallon overcomes awkward guest interviews by having them play games. Colbert might overcome it by having them do satirical, Hollywood skits.
Ironically, the funnier interview was with his second guest, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Colbert seemed a bit more engaged here. He asked the Governor a great question about how he would distinguish himself politically from his brother. Jeb Bush was a good enough sport and overall it bodes well for how Colbert might handle future Republican politicians on his show.
The show ran a bit long, finally being cut off at 12:44 AM. However, it concluded with a really, great musical number from Jon Batiste and his band, along with various guests including Mavis Staples doing a cover of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
It had a bit of slow and awkward start, but Colbert finished strong in his premiere, prime-time, network gig and I’m definitely curious to see where the show goes from here.
Four Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Weeknights at 11:35PM on CBS.