Coco is back

By Chelsea Whitton

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Two days ago for those of us with the luxury of basic cable, TV host Conan O’Brien in all of his shockingly pale, alarmingly lanky, flame-haired and undeniably funny glory brought us laughs after disappearing from the air waves for over nine months. That’s right – Conan O’Brien is back and on TBS with his new show, “Conan.” He joked, “People asked me why I named this show Conan. I did it because I’d be harder to replace.”

It’s clear he wants the job. So how did his first night go?

Before I review Conan’s first show let me tell you that I have been a Conan O’Brien fan since I was 10 years old. I became increasingly obsessed with the ginger giant that validated my right to be nerdy, tall and red headed while still being able to somehow fit into society. Unfortunately, I still haven’t mastered the string dance. But I find myself often repeating O’Brien in his frequently heard falsetto, “Keep cool my babies. Ow.” Now that he’s back on TV I think that’s really all his fans can do.

According to Bloomberg news yesterday, “Conan O’Brien, who left NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in January, attracted 4.16 million viewers in his return to late-night television on TBS, beating Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman on CBS.” I’d say he’s off to a good start. In my book, anyone who beats Jay Leno and Letterman is worthy of a second watch.

His return has been highly anticipated ever since TBS’ announcement of his new show months ago. It seemed like the wait of a lifetime over a highly publicized comeback via Twitter, Facebook, TeamCoco.com, ad campaigns and his “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on TV Tour, ” but underneath all the ridiculous attention grabbers such as Conan washing a car down like Jessica Simpson in the “Dukes of Hazard,” and hanging out of a helicopter – Conan’s heart still holds dear that self-deprecating humor, banter with Andy Richter, and a guy on stage who clearly loves what he does.

I think it says a lot about Conan that after NBC forked over $33 million to him to leave the “Tonight Show” he was able to pull it together and start his comedic empire back up. It is truly inspiring. For O’Brien it isn’t about the money or the status, it’s about doing what he loves and making people laugh. I bet Conan would probably say he does his show because it would be a shame to not let someone as damn good looking as him be on TV.

Okay so let’s get to it. The first show was exactly what I had expected. It wasn’t his greatest, and it wasn’t his worst. I can
imagine it must have been shocking for Conan. After nine months of being off the air, standing in a second studio specifically designed for his show, to see hundreds of studio audience members cheer him on must have felt a little surreal. He joked that the applause lasted longer than his last show. But I do have to critique the studio. It is quite large and eerily similar to the color scheme and set design of the “Tonight Show” set which was also specifically made for O’Brien. I think its time for O’Brien to put away the NBC jokes and leave it be. We’re there for him – we’re not there for a network name.

O’Brien’s guests were not up to the level I thought they should be – especially for his premiere show. Seth Rogan was crude, not funny and the awkwardness between the two jumped out of the screen. Anyone from “Glee” really isn’t all as appealing as the mainstream media thinks, so Lea Michele probably wasn’t the best pick. I also was disappointed with Jimmy Vivinio and the Basic Cable band, as the name of O’Brien’s house band. The letters “BCB” on the front of their music stands seemed really tacky. There won’t ever be anything like Max Weinberg and the chemistry he and O’Brien had, but this band seems lacking. Hey, at least he’s still got the inevitably incapable, but hilarious actor and talented trombone player LaBamba to keep up the band chemistry with Conan.

I will say, keeping Andy Richter as a side kick is genius. Quick-witted Andy pairs perfectly with the sincerely chuckling Conan. I think that having Andy sit on the couch in the opening minutes of the show puts O’Brien at ease.

Conan’s comeback wasn’t without quirky dance moves and some guitar playing with Jack White. Though the two are good friends and certainly like to jam out together, I have to say the ending bit felt a bit imposed and a bit under composed. The audio was a mess, and I couldn’t make out one thing either of them was singing. However, it was fun to see Conan up there enjoying the limelight again.

Though Conan will never be able to get back his “Late Night” feel, I still think there is a future on TBS for him, and it won’t be short-lived. If he can rid himself of the rating dropper that is NBC, and the connection to the self-entitled big chin that is Jay Leno, I think the old Conan and funnier Conan will emerge again. It will be interesting to see him move away from the NBC fiasco entirely and return to the Conan that was unstoppable and undeniably wacky, and I’m definitely staying tuned in at 11 on TBS every weeknight.

Chelsea Whitton is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]