Seth Meyers takes over ‘Late Night’ in an unimpressive first attempt

The Olympics may have ended on Sunday, but there was still one more torch left to pass a day later in the world of late night television. On Monday night, Seth Meyers became the new host of “Late Night” on NBC.

With Jimmy Fallon now comfortably at the helm of “The Tonight Show,” this was the final step in NBC’s second attempt at a talk show host shuffle, this one blessed with much less controversy than the first.

Fresh from his position as co-anchor on the “Weekend Update” segment of“Saturday Night Live,” Meyers is no stranger to a live audience. His opening monologue was a testament to that. Most of the jokes that comprised it were safe and topical, including a well-deserved dig at the current reputation of our state, Arizona. It was also endearingly self-aware.

 

 

“Our first sorta’ bomb!” Meyers sarcastically celebrated after one joke fell flat, showing his comfortable grasp of comedy.

He was however, clearly out of his element in a standing position. With an erect posture that can only be described as Brosnan-esque, and overly tight hand gestures, it was easy to see that he craved the firmness of his “Update Desk.” The tiny, oddly placed desk he eventually sat behind though, was far less impressive than the one he had

It was here that Meyers introduced perhaps the cleverest aspect of the show: the 8G Band, headed by fellow SNL veteran and humor god, Fred Armisen. The limited banter they shared was very funny, but probably mostly scripted.

This is one peculiar feature of Seth Meyers. He has the remarkable ability to make everything, even if it is genuinely off the cuff, sound as if he wrote it beforehand. Whether that will benefit him as a host remains to be seen.

After some sweet and funny acknowledgements, the body of the show began, and like most premieres, it wasn’t that great. The two segments preceding the interviews were not very funny, and even tiresome to follow at some points. As former head writer at SNL, Meyers definitely could have done better.

With guests as impressive as former “Weekend Update” co-host Amy Poehler, and Vice President Joe Biden (or as Poehler called him, “Gorgeous Charm Monster”), the rest of the show went more smoothly, but it still lacked the sheer entertainment the late night crowd has come to expect. And the reason why is clear.

Seth Meyers does not command attention the way most talk-show hosts do. He does not possess the goofy nervousness of Jimmy Fallon, the striking physical presence of Conan O’Brien, the confidence of David Letterman or the chin of Jay Leno. As he is now, he blends into his tiny stage.

Who knows though? Maybe “Late Night” will be all about the guests, with the host just there to get the ball rolling with questions. That would be the only way to make Meyers, as he is now, a viable host.

Instead though, he will probably change over the next few weeks. Most new hosts usually evolve and eventually settle into a role that they inhabit better than anyone, and the very things that made them questionable first-time hosts fade into vague quirks that add to their charm. Do we not remember a younger, spazzier Jimmy Fallon struggling through his first awkward monologue five years ago?

So, don’t expect to be in stitches, at least for another few runs. Keep checking back in every now and then and you might end up liking “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

Reach the reporter at shmartin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @shmartin09