Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was definitely better the second time around last night. But much of the credit for that improvement must be attributed to the difference in lead guests: an animated Tina Fey last night, vs.a Robert De Niro who acted like just showing up was enough on opening night.
Fey, a former partner of Fallon's at the Saturday Night Live "Update" desk, bounced onto the stage and worked non-stop to make her "casual" conversation with Fallon sparkle all night. She was "on" even when another guest held the seat closest to the host. Fey was such a good sport, that she got up and did a mock slow dance for Jon Bon Jovi when he kiddingly asked her to.
Bon Jovi was the other big guest, and he came through as well for Fallon. During Bon Jovi's segment, an audience member was brought onstage to do a karaoke version of his song, "Wanted Dead or Alive." When the young woman finished singing, Bon Jovi left his seat, got up and sang a chorus with her. And all of this came with the Roots houseband, the best musical group on latenight TV, playing behind them. For a moment, performer, audience and viewer all seemed to be riding the same current of energy and fun -- the stuff of which latenight talk-show success is made.
Now the bad news: Fallon didn't have much to do with the good moments last night. When he held the spotlight, the show faltered.
In my review of the premiere, I said that I knew Fallon would deliver funnier opening monologues in nights to come. But after seeing him last night, I am not so sure. His rhythm was better, but he seems utterly incapable of taking the news of the day, or the events that adults are most likely to be talking about at night, and make a joke about it. "Topical" is the word I'm thinking of here -- or in his case, the lack of humorous topicality.
Some of the fault for that could be the writing -- it remained pretty bad last night. One segment featured cameras closing in on various audience members while the screen showed a mock Facebook update for each of them. Good concept, but the execution was pretty lame
Sample: For an audience member identified as Ted, the update said, "I'm wearing a thong backward." The update for a woman named Sharon: "I'm drunk."
The segment did end with a camera focusing on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who was in the audience to welcome Fallon's new show. It was an improvement, but it would have been nice if the bookers could have gotten the mayor to come on opening night.
Between Fallon's flawed performance and the weak writing, the real test is going to come next week and the weeks after when the producers have to start putting B-listers on the guest couch -- and Fallon doesn't have Tina Fey and Jon Bon Jovi to carry the night.
(Above: NBC Photo of Tina Fey, Bon Jovi and Jimmy Fallon by Dana Edelson)