As late night TV once again goes through a seismic shakeup, once again with Jay Leno at the epicenter, the long-term ramifications for viewers may, this time, turn out for the worse. But for right now, it really is making for some awesome entertainment.
Letterman can't contain himself, and that's never a bad thing when he goes off in front of an audience. But Conan, the past couple of weeks, has been on fire. In my younger days, when Conan still held down the Late Night shift, it was standard operating procedure to sit around with some like-minded pals and, with the help of some cocktails or, more often than not, some, uh, silly cigarettes, and get the giggles thanks to Conan's weirdo sense of humor. Things seemed strange -- and not in a good way -- when he made the transition to that enormous stage in LA, though. It was like the quirky inside joke now had to be slightly sanitized and universalized for consumption by outsiders. But now, having accepted his fate, it's as though the shackles of expectation have fallen away, and he's just going off and being himself. Granted, he's got a lot of material to suddenly work with.
But there's a line between self-deprecating humor and maudlin whining in the guise of jokes. Conan has catapulted, in the absurd way that only he can, onto the correct side of that line. Suddenly, there's something truly enjoyable about mixing a stiff drink and clicking on The Tonight Show. I guess now that the worst has actually happened, Conan's decided to go out partying like it's once again 1999.