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The Telefile
<I>Conan</i>‘s Premiere Was a Mixed Bag, But a Promising Mixed Bag, at Least

Last night Conan O'Brien arrived at his new basic cable home with Andy Richter, Jimmy Vivino and even the Masturbating Bear (surprise!) in tow, and the show felt... a little like both of his old shows! It was stiff and cautious at times, like The Tonight Show was, and then there'd be a five minute video sketch about Conan getting assassinated at a toll-booth, Godfather-style (I remember reading years ago that he'd begged Entertainment Weekly to let him do that on their cover and they refused, so glad TBS is really making his dreams come true here) and it felt like the relaxed silliness of Late Night all over again. The premiere as a whole wasn't exceptional, or even exceptionally funny throughout, but there is probably wisdom in starting out cautiously. Either way, I really wouldn't say it was a bad episode, so that certainly is something.

As expected, the premiere was crammed full of self-deprecating "I-was-fired" and "NBC-sucks" jokes -- I lost count at ten of them, which for a 43-minute show is a lot -- and while some of them were funny (the Burger King "that's like seven forks" bit in particular), the problem with the pervasive NBC jabs is that I can't tell at this point if he's doing so many of them because it would just be a weird elephant in the room if he didn't make any and so he's going overboard, or if he's really still just consumed with bitterness. I'm sure it's a mix of both, but hopefully he'll ease off of them quickly in future episodes -- no one wants to be the pathetic guy who can't stop talking about his ex on new dates, after all.

But other than that, it was mostly Conan as usual. Giant hair jokes, pale jokes, cat sounds, rockabilly guitar playing, an appearance by the legendary '92 Ford Taurus, some brief string-dancing (though I noticed he didn't do his signature spin before the monologue -- did NBC own the spin?), and, as mentioned, the Masturbating Bear in a funny bit about him masturbating out Lottery balls for NBC. Seth Rogen and Lea Michele were subpar guests, but Conan kept the interviews on them and riffed off of their stories adequately. It wasn't the best I've ever seen him, but they weren't giving him the greatest sources to work off of, so I'll leave it at that.

I would have liked to have seen more risks and some more madness, but I can certainly understand Conan being a little gun-shy at this point. I'm assuming he just wanted to make a solid first show to break the ice and that he'll devolve into "Frankenstein Wastes a Minute of Our Time" absurdity soon enough. Because if this show is always as stiff and straightforward as it was last night, what is the point?

Your thoughts on Conan's premiere? Think he's got a shot in hell at beating Jon Stewart ever? Leave it all in the comments!

Check out this TV critic's list of do's and don'ts for Conan's new show and look back at Andy Richter's best moments.

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