After the hype, Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Tonight Show’ is strangely muted

By Mary Mcnamara

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Which is a good thing; violets, shrinking or otherwise, do not make good late-night hosts. And once Fallon moved behind the desk, and in front of a truly fabulous wooden miniature of New York, he seemed more comfortable, telling “my buddy who said I’d never host ‘The Tonight Show’: You owe me 100 bucks.” Upon which Robert De Niro kicked off a hilarious mélange of stars appearing to slap down a Benjamin Franklin, including Joan Rivers, returning to “The Tonight Show” for the first time since Johnny Carson banished her in 1986, and Stephen Colbert, who showered Fallon with pennies and shouted “Welcome to 11:30, (expletive)”

Now that’s more like it.

After Smith and Fallon did their hip-hop thang, the show moved to the Top of the Rock, where U2 perched along the edge of the roof against a glorious sunset, igniting cheers from the crowd and scaring the heart out of anyone with even a vague fear of heights. Back inside, Fallon chatted with Smith about fame and fear and then welcomed Bono, the Edge and the Gang for a little sit-down. After presenting Fallon with his own (red) guitar, they sang an acoustic version of their Oscar-nominated “Ordinary Love,” which sounded, as so few late-night performances do, just fabulous.

And that is where Fallon will make his mark on the show. He is the most musically inclined host since Steve Allen, with a pop-culture sensibility — he referenced both “Masters of the Universe” and “Dune” in a description of an aerial view of Dubai — to match his easy-going ways. He is playful, he is joyful and he is an astute user of social media, all of which one hopes he brings to the beloved but undeniably aging franchise.

But only if he can get over getting over himself. Too much public self-effacement can look like arrogance in disguise — Uriah Heep was a very ‘umble man too. It’s great that Fallon can get Will Smith and U2, Tina Fey and Lady Gaga, but, as Smith pointed out, people will come to the show for him. As one assumes Fallon knows, because he changed Leno’s “The Tonight Show With” back to Carson’s “The Tonight Show Starring.”

Which he will need to start doing soon, since it’s his show now.

Mary McNamara: mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

©2014 Los Angeles Times. Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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