I won’t be posting a “Top Ten Movies of 2014” entry, unlike last year. I simply didn’t see enough films to create a fair list. Instead of going to the cinema, I’ve spent many late nights these last few months watching late night television. I channel surf during commercials (no TiVo in this household), but usually settle on “The Colbert Report,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” and “Saturday Night Live.” All three shows have had newsworthy moments of late, and I wanted to share those moments with you.
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
R.I.P. to “The Colbert Report.” This biting satire of conservative talk shows won several awards, and deserved each one. The one-two punch of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” gave savvy newshounds – particularly those with a liberal bias – much to savor with fresh episodes four days/week. “Colbert Report” host Stephen Colbert earned big, brilliant laughs as “Stephen Colbert,” a pompous, dim-witted neo-Conservative. I put his name in quotes because – if you haven’t seen the show or you never got the joke – the real Colbert is actually a well-read, progressive liberal of great intelligence.
His character was retired nine days ago after a terrific ten-year run. No doubt Comedy Central wanted him to stay, but how could he turn down an offer to take over for “Late Show” host David Letterman? It is still uncertain when he will take over Letterman’s reigns, but what is certain is that Colbert will hit the comedic ball out of the late night park for CBS.
Much of Colbert’s last episode week on Comedy Central was business as usual. He did score an interview with President Barack Obama, and Colbert’s final show, later that same week, seemed to be a regular show…until the last ten minutes. As the show drew to a close, we learned that “Stephen Colbert” was (is) immortal and that Abe Lincoln was (is) a unicorn. Then, Colbert was joined by Jon Stewart, lyricist Randy Newman, and dozens – hundreds – of other celebrities, journalists, athletes, politicians, and – yes – Muppets – for a rousing rendition of Dame Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.” Look, it’s Big Bird! George Lucas! And there’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! Wow, it’s Renaissance man James Franco! And was that former president Bill Clinton?! Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTrLUso2Y0o
Well done, sir. See you next year.
The Late Late Show (CBS)
If Stephen Colbert provided the biggest belly laughs out of the increasing roster of late night comics, then Craig Ferguson provided the most chuckles. The Scotland-born Ferguson gained fame in the U.S. as Mr. Wick, the buffoonish, depraved boss of Drew Carey on The Drew Carey Show. I surely wasn’t alone when I raised eyebrows after learning that Ferguson had been hired by CBS as Craig Kilborn’s “Late Late Show” replacement. But Ferguson grew into the role nicely, quickly transcending his initial label as “that other Craig.”
The ratings-challenged “Late Late Show” began, under previous host Kilborn’s hand, as a run-of-the-mill late night talk show, with a monologue, the occasional skit, two interviews, and a comedian or musical performance. The abrasive Kilborn was replaced in 2005 by the happier Ferguson, who injected a healthy dose of goofiness into the show. Ferguson had not one sidekick but two: Geoff – a gay robot skeleton – and Secretariat – a dancing, Frisbee-playing horse. When I first watched the show – sporadically during 2009 and 2010 – Ferguson chatted with audience members and appeared to have so much fun that he seemed reluctant to break for commercials. As I became a regular viewer during the second half of 2014, I noticed that while Ferguson had become more respectful towards the show’s advertisers, he also appeared to grow tired of the whole thing. His show was as giddily funny as ever, but he just seemed not to give much of a damn. ‘Tis his right, but it no doubt was reflected in the unusual B-roster of guests. There was, for example, no A-lister on the level of, say, Jennifer Aniston, even though Ms. Aniston made the rounds on every other late night show to promote her new film, “Horrible Bosses 2.” There was no Tom Cruise. No Oprah Winfrey. Instead, Ferguson got DJ Qualls and Valerie Bertinelli.
His final weeks on air garnered a higher-profile guest list. Metallica jammed every night for an entire week. Matthew McConaughey stopped by one strange evening. Jim Parsons guested on Ferguson’s penultimate show. The last guest? Jay Leno. Yawn. Leno notwithstanding, Ferguson’s last show was one for the ages. His usual opening credits number was replaced by a rocking performance of Glasgow rockers Dead Man Fall’s “Bang Your Drum,” sung by Ferguson himself. Like Colbert, he was joined by a plus-sized roster of famous guests. Why didn’t he have guests of this caliber all the time? The show’s final coda could best be described as “Newhart”-meets-“The Drew Carey Show”-meets-“The Sopranos.” Some may say that the “Newhart” ending has been done before; all I’ll say is that it’s never been done better. See for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPR5CC30qrI
Are you really retiring from CBS to walk the earth and solve crimes, Craig? Or – like your counterpart Mr. Colbert – will we meet again?
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
2014 has been an interesting year for “Saturday Night Live.” For starters, the show is celebrating its 40th season, and is enjoying a creative rebirth of sorts. If the show isn’t as sharp as it was during its late-70’s heyday or during the time of Hans and Franz and Wayne and Garth, it at least excels at matching cast members with characters for which they are well-suited (Bobby Moynihan’s Kim Jong-un, for example). “SNL” is still 30 minutes too long, but that first hour has seemed fresher, lately, than it has in years. The musical talent has been above average and the guest hosts have been firing on all cylinders. Did you see Prince’s 8-minute guest jam from two months ago? Did you catch recent host/”Hobbit” star Martin Freeman’s inspired mash-up of “LOTR” and the BBC’s “The Office?”
Being a cast member on “SNL” seems to foster a fraternal spirit. The show’s most successful members usually leave after five or six seasons, but they often come back, sometimes with great frequency. Recent retirees Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, and Bill Hader all come to mind. So does Mike Myers.
The fall hacking of Sony Studios databases (allegedly by North Korea) followed DPRK dictator Kim Jong-un to proclaim the release of Sony’s “The Interview” as “an act of war.” The terror threat that later followed prompted Sony to cancel its release of the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy. Sony has since backpedaled and agreed to distribute to film to any independent theaters willing to carry it, but “SNL” had the first laugh: on its pre-Christmas show, the opening act was “interrupted” by Dr. Evil (Myers) chastising both Sony and North Korea for not being evil enough. Dr. Evil’s lecture lasted just three minutes, but it was ballsy, self-deprecating, and funny as hell. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBoPm_ZJPDc
My hat’s off to “Saturday Night Live” for being relevant once again.