this week in late night

Late Night’s Year in Review Revue

Samantha Bee’s holiday special. Photo: TBS

Twenty eighteen is almost over, and what have we learned? Late night will be taking the week off for Christmas, so any summary statements the guys and dolls of entertainment want to give, they gotta do it now. Each host brought specific concerns to the table. What they highlighted maybe says less about 2018 and more about their particular concerns. Jimmy Kimmel, for example, cares only for viral videos and belittling his staff.

The most telling part of this clip is when Kimmel calls his paid researchers “sad and unhealthy individuals,” as if their devotion to viral content was a personal defect and not a job description. There’s no such thing as fun for Kimmel if it doesn’t come at someone else’s expense. Whether it’s goading parents into ruining Halloween and Fortnite for their kids or letting starlets disturb his slumber, there has to be a winner and a loser on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Granted, when Miley Cyrus breaks into his bedroom, Kimmel is ostensibly the loser. But I am not convinced this is not a weird way for Kimmel to get paid to enact a very personal kink.

James Corden’s kink is musical theater; I think we all know that. The “12 Musicals in 12 Minutes” thing he did with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Emily Blunt was clearly for no one’s pleasure but his own. If he was thinking of anyone else’s enjoyment, they would have done “10 in 10,” a number people think of when doing lists. Corden’s year in review came in the form of a recitative slam poem. The content was general, but the delivery was designed for demonstrative diction. It’s not that Corden doesn’t care about anything outside of himself, it’s that he — of all the late-night hosts — is most cognizant that a show is being put on. Both CBS hosts are this way: Colbert is constantly playing to the audience, but he’s covering news. Corden does show for show’s sake. You get the feeling he’d be hoofing in vaudeville if he were born 100 years ago, whereas Colbert would be a Robert Benchley type; Colbert lives in an eternal now, where the only thing that matters is the next burn. That’s why he’s the most well-matched host for the Trump admin. They both operate like goldfish.

Speaking of showing off with Lin-Manuel, there’s nothing Jimmy Fallon likes more than a singsong. He ranked Trump’s Trumpiest moments, but his heart wasn’t in it they way it was for the Fallon-Miranda Christmassy covers of 2018’s biggest songs. It was … mostly confusing. In psychology, there’s a concept called “cognitive load,” which means the amount of information processing you take on when presented with any given thing. This bit had too much cognitive load to enjoy fully. I felt like a Windows 98 computer trying to stream Enter the Void. I thought they were going to do Christmas jazzy rearrangements of popular songs, but instead they wrote new holiday-specific lyrics? Trying to place what song they were doing then hear or fully understand the new lyrics was too much. Some sing-along subtitles would have helped immensely. It’s been an exhausting year, and I just don’t have the energy to clock eggnog jokes at 12 in the morning.

Samantha Bee reminded us all why this year was so exhausting during her Christmas special this week, drawing attention to a year in atrocities with her big opening number. This is how you stay topical and shiny. It’s a tough balance to pull off. In Corden’s wrap-up, the pop-culture jokes never meshed fully with the Trump saga stuff. Big cow =/= big Mueller investigation. But Bee was able to smoosh the two together with a thesis statement: “The world is dark,” Bee said, “but tonight, we are going to bukkake it with joy.” We dive headfirst into all the dumb stuff because the world is on fire. And since we have no reason to believe things will dramatically improve in 2019, let’s look forward to another year of glitz, glamour, and absurdist nihilism on late night. Happy New Year!

Late Night’s Year in Review Revue