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The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: Everything Old is New Again

I must admit something right off the bat: I've never been the biggest fan of Jimmy Fallon as a late night talk show host. I know, I know, that's like saying puppies are overrated and ice cream is a sub-par dessert. I'm of the minority and I realize that. Let me clarify that I actually thought Fallon's Late Night was a fun, hip (The Roots rule all!!) and modern (the guy knows his viral-friendly audience) show, but Fallon's interviewing style of fawning and giggling over every single guest always hit the wrong nerve with me. Again, I realize that Fallon doesn't have the gravitas as Letterman, nor the politics of Stewart and Colbert, but I like my hosts more edgy and daring than agreeable and starstruck, and the squeaky-clean Fallon most certainly ain't that.

So imagine my shock when I was pleasantly surprised by Jimmy Fallon's debut as the host of The Tonight Show. (Even more so considering that I'm still pretty ticked off about the treatment that Conan O'Brien got.) Fallon is still the silly, giggly and nervous emcee he's always been, but after Leno's reign (and re-reign), it's exactly the jolt of energy and heart that The Tonight Show has so desperately needed. I mean, I'm as cynical as the next TV critic, but I'm no monster. Even if Fallon isn't as polished as his counterparts, you'd have to be made of stone not to warm up to the guy's humble, sweet (his adorable parents were cheering him on from the audience) and yes, even funny ("I'm your host... for now") first opening monologue as the host of The Tonight Show. Plus, as a New Yorker, it's pretty thrilling to see the iconic show back in the Big Apple for the first time 40 years, and with opening credits directed by New York royalty Spike Lee. Of course, in terms of New York coolness, Questlove's bow tie last night trumped all.

After his opener, it was business as usual for Fallon with his light, but effective bits (including an Olympics-themed "Tonight Show Superlatives") and an overabundance of random celebrity cameos (including Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Rudy Giuliani, Mariah Carey, Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers, Kim Kardashian, Seth Rogen, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga, and Stephen "Welcome to 11:30, Bitch!" Colbert).

Will Smith was Fallon's first guest and while the interview was, as to be expected, pretty lackluster, let's be honest, that's not why people watch his show anyway. Fallon has carved out a nice little niche for himself as the guy who gets celebrities to have fun and appear in wildly popular sketches. Case in point: the instantly talked-about "Evolution of Hip-Hop Dance" featuring Smith. Do people really care what two PG-rated guys like Fallon and Smith have to say to each other? Probably not. Do you want to see the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air do the Carlton? Damn straight. Again, Fallon knows his audience.

Maybe that's what makes the seemingly uncool Fallon so cool in the end: he appeals to the mainstream without dumbing it down (Leno was painfully guilty of that) or being cynical about it. U2 doing a rooftop performance of one of their new songs or an acoustic set on the Tonight Show couch maybe isn't the coolest thing anymore (or, at least it's not cool to admit you still like U2), but seeing Bono sing with the stunning backdrop of Manhattan behind him and asking The Roots to join their jam is really effing cool, actually. Damn you, Fallon, you've cracked the code by making everything old new again.

I still hope the unquestionably talented, likeable, and hard-working Fallon gets a little sharper with his interviewing skills now that he's hosting The Tonight Show (I mean there are more hard-hitting questions asked on the E! red carpet), but I don't think this guy will ever lose his sense of joy and utter excitement about what he does for a living, and in an era of comedy where jadedness and irony reign supreme, it will be an impressive feat if Fallon turns out to be the king of late night television. All previous apprehensions aside, I'm officially interested to see what Fallon does with The Tonight Show.

Watch the full episode here:

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