The first episode of NBC's new "Jay Leno Show" wasn't exactly different from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," and it didn't exactly change my mind about Leno not being funny. But I also recognize that I am probably not his intended audience, so read this with a grain of salt.
As was anticipated in the aftermath of the Kanye West-Taylor Swift trainwreck Sunday night, the most intriguing part of Jay's whole show was when he sat down to interview Kanye, and actually made him cry by guilting him with this dead mother. But we'll get to that later.
Leno opened with a monologue just like the monologues from "The Tonight Show," but with skits sprinkled in much like Conan O'Brien does on "The Tonight Show." And his first joke, it was pointed out by Kansas City Star TV blogger Aaron Barnhart, was not exactly original. From Twitter:
@TVBarn: The second joke Letterman told on his show on CBS in 93: "This is not a promo. This is the actual show." Jay is STILL STEALING FROM HIM
The "Cheaters" sketch during the monologue was mildly funny (spoofing the reality show "Cheaters," Leno catches Kevin Eubanks "cheating" with a Leno lookalike).
After the monologue, the first (and only) jarring difference is that there's no desk. No desk! Leno stands while he introduces folks - like Dan Finnerty, the wedding singer from "The Hangover" (and also, more hilariously, from "Old School"). He sends Dan and his band (The Dan Band) to the local car wash to serenade people while they have their cars washed. This guy is very funny, and his car wash dance number with his band had me laughing. Leno wasn't in this sketch.
Next Jay's sitting in a small arm chair and brings out his first guest (after Dan Finnerty) Jerry Seinfeld, who is looking a little silly in a tuxedo. If I were going to watch this show regularly, it would take me awhile to get used to this set up. The chairs don't even look that comfortable. It feels like he ditched the desk just for the sake of change, and he needs something. A coffee table. Something.
Seinfeld's funny bit was supposed to be that he "got Oprah" on the show when Jay could not. Oprah appeared on a video screen behind the chairs, chatted with Jerry for a few seconds and then went away without acknowledging Jay. Then Jerry and Jay talk about SC Governor Mark Sanford and tell some "soulmate" jokes. Boy that is topical. Only months old. Now Cash for Clunkers. I'm (so not) blown away.
Then Leno stands again to introduce a lame clip of President Obama's "60 Minutes" interview, except with Leno inserting fake questions. Honestly. Lame.
And it's no surprise that in light of Kanye West's jackass move at the VMAs Sunday night, Jay makes time for a sitdown segment with the singer. And it's a good thing because it's the best part of the show.
Jay starts by thanking Kanye for honoring his commitment and actually showing up.
Kanye's statement about what he did to Taylor Swift at the VMAs is confusing as hell. He is plain about the fact that what he did was wrong and rude, but he also acts like he didn't know it was going to be wrong and rude. So Jay actually asks him what I'm thinking: "When did you know it was wrong?" Kanye says as soon as he gave the mic back to Taylor and she didn't keep talking. Really? That's when?? You thought it was okay right up to that point?
Then Jay surprises everyone by asking Kanye what his deceased mom would have said about all this. There's a painful silence and Kanye covers his face and begins to cry just a little. Leno touches his leg and Kanye composes himself. Kanye says he never really dealt with that hurt and he's ashamed that his hurt caused someone else's hurt. He says he's not trying to justify what he did, but says he needs to take some time off and figure out how he's going to improve and live the rest of his life. He says if there's anything he can do to help Taylor in the future, he'd like to do that. And he says he'd like to apologize to her in person.
Then Kanye sings with Jay-Z and Rihanna.
Then Leno ends the show with his tired Headlines bit (behind a desk). Example: Headline: "Group that helps women to expand." Jay: "I think that would be Krispy Kreme, wouldn't it?" And it goes on like that...
So yeah, it's pretty much "The Tonight Show" without a desk and 90 minutes earlier.