Leno’s Uninspired Tonight Show Finale

The fourth host of The Tonight Show has officially retired from the job.  Jay Leno, Johnny Carson’s successor, concluded his 17-year run on the oldest American late night program by offering a formulaic mixture of clip montages, big time guests, personal tributes and mostly stale monologue jokes.  Not even close to being as respected as Carson (and with good reason), Leno’s final Tonight Show perfectly summed up his era on the show:  forgettable and safe.
 
At one point during his typically overlong, uninspired monologue, he started riffing like Rodney Dangerfield, as a personal tribute.   Then, he threw to a montage of the late, great comedian during his many appearances on Tonight.  There were more laughs in that brief segment than Leno offered in the entire hour.  When a dead man on videotape is far funnier than the live guy hosting the same show, you’re in sad shape.  While it was nice to see Rodney get acknowledged for his brilliant stand-up work, it made Leno’s comedy look even weaker than it normally is.  It was a mistake to run it.
 
I hope Howard Stern wasn’t watching this final show because he would’ve been livid over the Jaywalking clips.  (Stern has long maintained that Leno and his writers stole the man-on-the-street-asking-stupid-people-basic-trivia-questions bit from his long running radio program.  He wasn’t happy about how Stuttering John was lured away, either.)  After showing some of the “best” moments from that segment over the years, Leno threw to a follow-up package where the dumbest of the dumb competed right on the show in a game called Battle Of The Jaywalking All-Stars.  Quite frankly, it was routine stuff and not very funny.
 
Much better was Conan O’Brien, the only guest Leno interviewed.  Looking relaxed and slipping easily into his Edward G. Robinson impression, he was as loose and funny as he’s ever been in recent years unlike the interesting clip that Leno showed of him making his first appearance on Tonight in early 1993 after receiving the Late Night gig.  (What a difference 16 years makes!)  He is definitely ready to take over the show June 1st.  I wish him well.
 
After reflecting on a particular song he heard at some point during his long drive from hometown Boston to Hollywood in the early 1970s in order to pursue a career in comedy, Leno introduced James Taylor who played that very same track, Sweet Baby James.  Low-key balladry is really not my bag and so the song, unfortunately, left me unmoved.  Leno, however, was appreciative and hugged Taylor after the performance.
 
By the end, Leno thanked his wife, Mavis, who was in the audience and the current members of his staff, including longtime bandleader Kevin Eubanks and announcer Stuttering John Melendez.  More interesting were the people he didn’t thank like original (and controversial) executive producer Helen Kushnick (who discovered the comedian, managed and championed him for years but later died of cancer in 1996, four years after being fired from NBC), Edd Hall who preceded Stuttering John in the announcer’s chair, and Branford Marsalis, his first bandleader who, upon leaving the show in 1995, went on to publicly criticize him.
 
Worst of all was the moment when he proclaimed with a straight face that he was a union guy.  This from the man who went ahead and wrote his own monologue jokes during that needless writer’s strike not too long ago (a Writer’s Guild Of America no-no that led to absolutely no consequences) and only started paying his out-of-work staff after the press reported Letterman doing it first.
 
Although it was cute to see all the Tonight Show staff kids that were born and raised during his tenure (an astounding 68 in all), the fact that it was his response to the overasked “what’s your legacy?” question was a blatantly transparent attempt to avoid confronting the reality of his run.  Aside from a few memorable guests and some genuinely funny moments, Letterman’s Late Show has always been better, hence all those Emmys.
 
It’s too bad Billy Crystal’s hilarious appearance on the previous Tonight Show didn’t happen on this one.  It would’ve at least ended this critically unloved program with a bang.  Instead, Leno’s lacklustreness was all too painfully on display.  We’ve seen this once brilliantly acidic stand-up water his act down so severely that it’s hard to reconcile the bold, funny guy that used to crack up former friend Dave Letterman with the phony asskisser who refused to put fools like Ann Coulter and Mel Gibson in their place.  “What the hell were you thinking?” remains the only tough question he ever asked a guest.  That’s not much of a legacy.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, May 30, 2009
2:06 a.m.
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Published in: on May 30, 2009 at 2:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Thoughts On Jon & Kate Plus 8

There’s a moment in the fifth season premiere of Jon & Kate Plus 8 where actual reality is captured.  Kate Gosselin, the cold, bossy, control-freak matriarch, has been exhaustingly preparing for her sextuplets’ fifth birthday party with the assistance of her 7-year-old twin daughters.  Her husband, the long suffering, passive-aggressive Jon, is estranged from her, thanks to the remarkable revelation that he’s been unfaithful (more on that shortly).  After going back home a couple of times to pick up items his wife forgot to bring with her to this outdoor area where the party is taking place, he returns to enjoy the day.  On a chilly, bug-filled afternoon, he stands for a moment while Kate is lingering nearby.  They don’t look at each other.  Not a word is spoken.  The tension is palpable.
 
Over the past several days, TLC has been bombarding viewers with endless episodes of this long running reality series in order to publicize the new season.  I had never seen a single second of it until this past week.  At first glance, it’s rather unremarkable, the only real hook being the adorable eight kids.  But if you stick with it (I caught several episodes here and there), little slithers of truth gradually and increasingly slip through the blatantly artificial surface.
 
Kate constantly treats Jon like he’s her ninth child.  Even though they interrupt each other from time to time during interviews that are edited together with footage of the kids, on one memorable occasion, she scolds him for it.  A stunned Jon zips it shut while she starts over again.  (And no, her remarks were not terribly important.)
 
When she’s not ordering him around to carry out her whims, she’s critical of his taste and abilities.  She also has this rather sexist attitude toward men in general which, for a supposedly “family friendly” TV show, is rather unfair and rude.  In one episode, the couple are looking for floor tiles for their new home.  For some bizarre reason, Kate is fixated on this dark grey pattern which Jon hates.  He prefers brown which ultimately makes sense because of the similiar look of the interior of their new home.  Before Kate begrudgingly agrees that his selection is better than hers, there’s the obligatory putdown of guys not knowing anything about decorating.  Meanwhile, she thinks grey goes with brown!  I mean, come on!
 
And then, there’s the affair.  According to US Weekly, Jon has been secretly seeing a younger woman since January.  If you watch the show, this truly boggles the mind.  The man has eight kids, all under the age of 10.  Every episode involves some kind of road trip.  He quit his job two years ago to be with them more often.  Where does he find the time?  Furthermore, he’s not very discreet.  US offered not only details of how he met the woman and how intimately involved they are (her brother truly is an unhelpful blabbermouth), but also displays pictures of them being seen together.  US also alleges that Kate is involved with her bodyguard (who’s also married) but she’s denied that. 
 
The more you watch Jon & Kate Plus 8, the more you realize what a nightmare this whole situation is.  From the shameless exploitation of the kids (besides the TV show, there are the DVD box sets of the original episodes, the official website, merchandise and three books) to Kate’s meanspirited detachment to Jon’s terminally weary demeanour to the absolutely phony premise, there is much to loath.
 
In the fifth season premiere, there’s much tiptoeing and dancing around Jon’s infidelity which is more than a little insulting to the adults watching.  (If you didn’t follow the media coverage, you’d have no clue what was being discussed.)  With relentless insinuation in the promos for the show, to not even be honest and real about what happened and to shift the focus onto the dreaded paparazzi shows an astounding lack of maturity and courage, not to mention respect for the growing audience.  But then again, we shouldn’t know about any of this nonsense in the first place.  In fact, we would never know a thing about this family had the couple adopted instead of going back to that goddamned fertility clinic.
 
To hear them complain about all the attention their crumbling marriage is getting is truly annoying.  No one forced them to have affairs.  No one forced them to have six kids at once.  No one forced them to exploit the hell out of their cuteness.  And no one forced them to quit their jobs in order to keep the gravy train rolling.  If you can’t take the bad with the good when you become famous, why are you on TV in the first place?   As Jon’s outspoken sister, Julie, reportedly revealed on the Gosselins Without Pity Blog, the family gets a ton of free stuff just for being on the show and episodes are crafted around “themes” planned out in advance.  Honestly, there’s no sense of normalcy when everything is paid for and documented by TLC.  How can there be? 
 
Back to the paparazzi for a minute.  Kate hates them so much that when one of her kids utters the word “paparazzi” out loud, she refuses to allow him to say it again.  The photographers pop up outside a store and near the outdoor setting of the birthday party during the fifth season premiere, further eroding the idea of the “reality” this show is trying to convey.  (You know, that this is a “normal” family of 10.)   When Kate and Jon complain about them, it’s hard to feel sympathetic when they’re shooting their TV show in their presence.  It would be one thing if they were just shopping off the air or just having a private party but they’re doing these things with a camera crew present.  My question is, who tipped off the photographers about their whereabouts?  If I were Kate and Jon, and thank God I’m not, that’s who I would be pissed at.
 
Looking at some of these old episodes for the first time, it’s hard not to notice the lack of love and affection between these two people.  Kate is prone to hitting, to scolding, to being hypercritical and Jon alternates from just taking her cruelty to standing up for himself.  (It’s astounding that he never truly loses his cool.)   I don’t remember there being a single kiss on the lips nor a sincere “I love you”.  Where’s the hand holding?  The cuddling?  The caressing?  Almost all the romantic gestures you can think of are strangely absent.  Were these two ever happy together?
 
You really feel for the kids here (none of whom, oddly, look like Kate).  As they get older and begin to understand what’s really going on, you wonder how will this affect their personal development and their futures.  Will they grow resentful?  And if Kate and Jon can’t work out their problems, what will the emotional fallout be from a possible separation and/or divorce?  The more you delve into this, the sadder the situation becomes.
 
If these people had any sense, they’d split amicably, stop exploiting their kids for free stuff and profit, and stay out of the spotlight for good.  Maintaining the status quo is the worst option.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
2:17 a.m.
Published in: on May 26, 2009 at 2:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Mental Massage

Quintessential aggravation
Pulling from within
Forcing a decision
Fight it or give in
 
Wrestling with doubt
Plagued with worry
Thoughts tumbling out
The truth is blurry
 
Crippling torment
Ripping the seams
No longer dormant
Haunting my dreams
 
Static erosion
Nirvana out of reach
Puzzling corrosion
Protocol breach
 
Fearful inexperience
Flooding through every pore
Mental indifference
Burning at the core
 
Frozen statue
Obsessively torn
Elusive breakthrough
Yet to be born 
 
In need of saving
Transparent visage
Desperately craving
A mental massage
 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
9:52 p.m. 
Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Answer

Ask me, I might say yes
Then again, I might say no
If you’re unwilling to wager a guess
How will you ever know?
 
The question is compelling
Worthy of serious thought
But your doubts are overwhelming
Your nerves are fucking shot
 
Charmingly hesitant
There’s no mistaking your fear
Uncomfortable resident
In a suffocating atmosphere
 
What do you have to lose?
Would you prefer not to know?
Ask me, I might say yes…
 
 
Forget it, the answer is no
 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
8:47 p.m. 
Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 8:47 pm  Comments (1)