Conan O’Brien arrives at TBS energetic and free

8 Nov

Monday night the world took a small step in the right direction.

I think that’s what many people who tuned in for the premiere of Conan O’Brien’s new show on TBS are feeling. Conan’s a success story. Burned by his corporate overlords, he set out a fashioned a new path and a new show for himself. It’s a good story. And a lot of people, including me, are glad to see Conan back on the air because of that.

But another compelling reason why there was real excitement for Conan’s return was that he was filling the gap that had been left by him after his Tonight Show run ended last spring. Since then, his brand of comedy – quirky, slightly detached but also earnest when it counts – had been missing from the television scene.

ConanThere is the castigating irony of Jon Stewart, the absurd character of Stephen Colbert and even the bland jokester uncle Jay Leno, but the place for the goofy, lovable oddball had been missing.

So Conan’s return was made even more enjoyable by the fact that he seemed at ease at TBS. You could tell he was enjoying the show just as much as the audience was. There was also a sense of freedom about the show that showed in everything from the multiple times Conan got close to the studio audience to a greater role for Andy Richter, who wasn’t as constrained by the producer’s podium as he had been at The Tonight Show.

The Conan as Rebel Outsider image gave the show an extra punch. While he must be careful to not lean too heavily on this image (and to not make too many NBC jokes), if he can continue to cultivate the rebel image in a healthy way, the show should find energy for a long time. This strategy works for Jon Stewart, who although he’s very much at the center of media criticism and political satire, to this day comes off as just one man against a world of corrupt politicians and spineless journalists.

If the kind of enthusiasm and sense that this is the place to be that was evident Monday night can be sustained, I think Conan will have a bright future. I know I’ll be tuning in tomorrow to find out.


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