Because we knew that Conan O’Brien would be rested after an extended vacation and would have the benefit of an atypically great guest (Will Ferrell) and a bunch of strong non-topical material culled from three months’ of writing sessions, it was probably unreasonable to expect that his first-ever Tonight Show last night would give any indication of what a regular episode would be like. And it didn’t! It was good, we guess, but mostly it just made us want to move to Los Angeles.
The thread tying together most of last night’s bits was Conan’s supposedly uneasy acclimation to life on the West Coast (his second monologue joke: “A lot of people have been asking me, ‘Will your show be any different now that you’ve moved to Los Angeles?’ I tell them all, ‘No, mi programa no va a cambiar porque estoy en la ciudad de Los Angeles’”). And surely we weren’t the only ones who, during the opening clip in which he ran across the United States to Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” half expected his pale Irish face to burst into flames under its first exposure to California sunlight. But didn’t he actually seem unusually at ease out there?
It could have been the three months off, or the softer stage lights in his enormous new studio, or maybe it was something wrong with our television, but to us he looked a full shade tanner than he ever did at 30 Rock. And — this was presumably the result of some kind of network mandate — he was perceptively less fidgety (we hope it isn’t sacrilege to say so, but we didn’t miss his pre-monologue dancing).
But he was still funny! The ride-along on the Universal back-lot tour was okay, and we liked the sketch in which he implied that he could impregnate women simply by waving at them through the window of his 1992 Ford Taurus. A few gags seemed more Letterman-y than his usual material (the dubbed clip of Joe Biden telling Judge Sotomayor that he loved Choco Tacos and the one-second taped message from Hillary Clinton, in particular), but not in a way that necessarily indicated any major shifts in his writing — we expected him to skew a little broad on his first night as Leno’s replacement, anyway.
But isn’t Los Angeles supposed to sap a New Yorker’s edge and make him dull? We have no evidence thus far that that’s happened here. Didn’t Annie Hall teach us that the West Coast is only good for rights on red and recycling garbage into television? The weather in all those outdoor sketches looked pretty nice, too. He’s only been there for three months, but if the only major side effect of Conan’s move to L.A. is a barely perceptible tan and a slightly mellower vibe, it sort of makes us wonder how much more floor space we could get out there for what we’re paying in New York.
A few other observations:
• He kept his Late Night theme song — awesome!
• Andy Richter’s role as announcer is pretty tiny, as we probably should’ve expected. But Max Weinberg didn’t get to talk at all last night! Surely this will be fixed soon, right?
• Is it really possible that Conan didn’t know what Choco Taco was before last night’s show? After the Biden bit, he said it was his favorite new saying, and a minute later he referred to it as a “really big restaurant chain.”
• As some had feared, Will Ferrell did not remove his pants, as was custom for his Late Night appearances. This doesn’t necessarily mean that NBC has forced Conan to clean up his act. He probably just didn’t want to terrify any elderly viewers who were tuning in because they thought the Tonight Show was still Leno’s.
• Clearly, Tonight Show sound engineers have their work cut out for them in the giant new studio. Pearl Jam sounded like they were playing unmiked inside an airplane hangar.
Update: And now there’s video! Here’s Conan running from New York to Los Angeles (with a brief stop at the doll store), soundtracked by Cheap Trick: