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TV review: ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’

| Senior Cadenza Editor

When Monday – Friday, 11:35 p.m.
Channel NBC

In the cold open of the series premiere of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” last week, Meyers paid homage to his “Late Night” predecessor with some Jimmy Fallon-style thank-you notes. Over the course of the next few episodes, though, Meyers proved that he isn’t going to be Fallon 2.0.

When NBC announced last year that Jay Leno would be handing over the reins of “The Tonight Show” to Fallon, there was much speculation as to who would take over “Late Night.” Meyers was the natural choice. Like Fallon, he got his start on “Saturday Night Live,” where he made his name as anchor of “Weekend Update” and developed a close relationship with Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of NBC’s late-night trifecta. Meyers’ “SNL” experience certainly transfers well to his new hosting duties, to a point where the show sometimes feels like a longer version of “Weekend Update.” Whenever he says “I’m Seth Meyers,” my brain still automatically finishes the sentence with “and here are tonight’s top stories.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, Meyers’ “SNL” background has not only honed his hosting skills but also lent him a fantastically weird sense of humor that should help set him apart from his predecessor. There were plenty of moments during Meyers’ first week that felt oh-so-Fallon, but Meyers managed to put his own spin on them with some classic “SNL”-style strangeness. Exhibit A: Wednesday night’s “Fake or Florida” quiz. The bit, which easily could have just been a bland game show segment, turned into one of the most hilarious bits of the week thanks to funny sound effects, arbitrary rules and a very Kristen Wiig-esque assistant. In a handful of segments—a Friday night segment called “Next Week’s News” comes to mind—things got a little too weird and the joke fell flat. Finding that balance between too safe and too strange is likely something Meyers will have to focus on going forward.

On “SNL,” Meyers was known for expertly setting up his fellow cast members for laughs as he played the straight man to other characters’ craziness. That ability has particularly shown through in his nightly banter with Studio 8G bandleader and fellow “SNL” alum Fred Armisen, who has been sharing ridiculous, made-up project ideas (like a fill-in-the-blank self-help book) with Meyers each night. Between “Portlandia” and all his other projects, I still don’t understand how this Armisen-as-bandleader thing is going to work out, but I love seeing him and Meyers hanging out together again.

And for those who were concerned that Meyers’ interview skills wouldn’t transfer to real guests, fear not because the interviews have been the high point of almost every episode so far. Meyers definitely played it safe with the premiere, bringing in Amy Poehler (his former “Weekend Update” co-anchor) and Joe Biden (the funniest, most down-to-earth guy in politics) as guests. Both interviews were great, and the banter between Biden and Poehler was even better. Tuesday night, on the other hand, was definitely going to prove more of a challenge, with notoriously hard-to-please Kanye West appearing as a guest. This was a chance for Meyers to prove himself as an interviewer, and he did so masterfully, making West feel at ease while still getting in plenty of jokes. Once again, Meyers proved that he’s no Fallon: rather than giggling through the interview and falling back on praise and platitudes, Meyers expertly navigated the conversation, getting real answers out of West and steering the conversation back whenever his guest went on a tangent.

“Late Night with Seth Meyers” is definitely still finding its footing, but so far, Meyers is off to a great start. Between his deftness with interviews and penchant for eccentric humor, Meyers has already established himself as a powerful force in the late-night lineup.