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“The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” debuted with Will Smith—and a whimper, not a bang

Last night was late-night history: Jimmy Fallon took over the coveted spot as host of NBC’s fabled “Tonight Show.” It felt like an event, something that had to be watched. Turns out, it was a bit of a soft opening. It was pretty vanilla. But some help from Fallon’s friends made it at least somewhat memorable.

The Roots seem extraordinarily front-and-center. Folks who pull sound bytes out of Tariq and Quest are now a little preoccupied with the notion that they could have this job for decades—that they’ll grow old backing Fallon up. And it’s really something that they can be a corny, PG and ma-and-pa-friendly intro and improv-for-a-joke band, then turn around and make a record like undun. They were more exciting to see than U2, Fallon’s first musical guest, which is just a little bit on the terrible tip. I actually listened to Boy (1980), October (1981) and War (1983) recently, to try to cool it on the U2 hate, and was reminded that they used to be really sick. But for now, they’re half-UN ambassadors and half-corporate puppets—in my eyes, anyway.

Fallon’s opening monologue turned into a really watered-down description of himself and the show. I did dig his upstate NY shout-out (Saugerties is a 30-minute drive from where I grew up, Red Hook, and home to the delicious El Rancho on Route 32), but his showing us where he’ll stand (on a four-leaf clover) and where he’ll come out (that big, beautiful curtain) was pretty unnecessary.

He finally got to an actual bit, saying that he was owed money for a bet, and a friend would be stopping by to settle up. Uh, there were several. Among them, Robert DeNiro, Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica-Parker, Seth Rogen, Mariah Carey, Lindsay Lohan and a scene-stealing visit from Stephen Colbert—who poured his bet money out in pennies,then took a selfie while Fallon rolled his eyes.

Will Smith, more Philly representation, was his “first guest ever,” and frankly, he was boring. Minus the uber-fab “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” (Please watch it below), they kind of just smiled at each other a lot while Fallon asked boring questions about the Olympics and Will’s kids. Yawn.

U2 did a rooftop performance of a song that I basically tuned out. I really hope I’m not the only one who thinks Bono is insufferable. One of my favorite bits, in fact, was poking fun of Bono’s willingness and ability to give an acceptance speech, for all the manifestations of his unrelenting philanthropy. He was dared to give one about his water mug, and he did. It almost felt like the humor was lost on him, and that added to the deliciousness.

Tonight’s guests look way better: Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig and Gaga. (Why couldn’t that have been the lineup last night?) Or will he continue to explain that this is his second night, that he’ll sit at a desk, or that his unsung hero, Steve Higgins, will periodically save his bombs? C’mon, Jimmy—don’t make me regret my thrill that Jay Leno’s gone and the show’s come back to New York.

FYI: Brad Cooper and Tim McGraw are Wednesday night; First Lady Michelle Obama, Will Ferrell and Arcade Fire are on Thursday night, and a full night of Justin Timberlake’ll conclude Week One.

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