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Monday, 8 of March of 2021

Conan – “Baa Baa Blackmail”

Welcome to my new show, Conan. People ask me why I named the show Conan. I did it so I’d be harder to replace.”

Photo: T-Bone Sandwich/Flickr

After a concert tour that helped him work through his disappointment (and grow an awesome sorrow beard) here is Conan O’Brien on, as he keeps reminding us, on basic cable, on TBS. Very funny, but much less.  With Conan, I think we have both things, at least for the time being.

I wasn’t expecting Conan to rework the late night format, and I don’t think Conan himself wants to do that anyway. He loves late night so much, clearly, that deviating from that format just isn’t in his blood, isn’t in his comedy. Why should it be? He grew up on it, wants to update the jokes but not the framework in which the jokes occur. That’s who O’Brien is. He’s the lanky, zany, awkward jokester.

So the opening, with his pop-culture laden previously on (Lost, The Godfather, Mad Men (which I remain convinced is really only brilliant in parody now), coming back on the joke that he’d be available for children’s parties soon), worked for me. It was funny and obvious jokes that can carry on, like the Godfather stuff, go on just long enough to be funny but no longer.

The monologue, and indeed much of the rest of the show, reminds us that  he’s on basic cable now, with a lower budget (his jab at NBC about no viewers and no money, however, worked nicely, I thought). These jokes, like the NBC jabs, shouldn’t become stock and trade for the show’s writers (they’ll get tired fast), and I think that’s why some folks may think the episode felt safe: “Oh. NBC Jokes. Ha ha. Basic cable jokes. Ha ha. Yeeeah. Where’s something painfully absurd?”

And to a degree, the episode does play it safe. I’d have much rather O’Brien interview the nutcracker museum curator as opposed to Seth Rogen and Lea Michele. Part of this stems from the fact that I find neither of them interesting, but a lot more of it stems from the fact that such an interview isn’t something that would happen on another show (well, maybe Ferguson), and I think O’Brien could really make that interview work for the audience and for the guest.

And then there’s the self-deprecating humor. Comedians acknowledge context, and the context for this show is funny and weird and horrible, and something that everyone needs to laugh at, especially those who work at the show. Like the basic cable jokes and the NBC jokes, these will pass with time, because it can only go so far before it just feels like you’re asking for pity instead of laughs.

I love Stewart and Colbert as much as anyone, but sometimes the overlapping jokes and topics coupled with the general frustration and dismay their satire can invoke while I’m laughing get to be a bit much. Is it so wrong that I found comfort in this kooky guy for an hour (well, half hour, I zoned out when the guests started, got into a debate about the merits of Sunday’s The Walking Dead on Twitter)?

Would I have preferred the rest of the episode occur with Conan and Andy (and maybe the guests?) wearing the Ex-Talk Show Host masks? Absolutely. But it’s the first episode, and like with so many first episodes, there’s a lot of exposition to map out, and after that’s done, then you can get to the good stuff.

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