September 9, 2015
What follows is my opinion. As such, it is correct. [NO SPOILERS NON-ALERT: The following gives away the segments but no jokes.]
I thought Stephen Colbert’s first show was uneven, in some ways promising and in other ways worrying.
Worrying was the mediocrity of the opening monologue. When you have nine months to come up with jokes, you ought to be able to come up with better jokes than those. So say I who did not have to come up with any jokes. (Colbert was nervous during it, but he’ll get over that.) On the other hand, I thought that the Trump/Oreos bit was Colbert Report caliber material. And I liked that it was media criticism more than Trump criticism.
Also worrisome: I thought the Clooney interview was an almost total disaster. He stuck with the prepared questions, for example not following up on Clooney’s Darfur answer. The prepared bit it awkwardly segued into might have worked if the discussion had been improvised, but was really disappointing as a sketch. I did like, however, the admission that they’re not actually friends. And Clooney, of course, was gracious, deferential, and charming.
If this is what the celebrity interviews are going to be like, we’re in trouble.
But then we had the very promising interview with Jeb! Bush. It was unscripted, funny, and sharp. And it was a relief to see Colbert unshackled from the conservative persona that made the interviews on his prior show hit-or-miss. If Colbert can engage in that level of discussion with his future guests, we’re in for something good — if only because that will require him to invite smart guests who have something significant to talk about.
As for the music, well, these all-star jams feel awfully gimmicky to me. I mean, if you’re going to have Mavis Staples singing, don’t give her a quick slice of our attention. Likewise for Buddy Guy. It’d be more efficient if the invited musicians all just signed a greeting card instead.