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I've Seen the Future. And All I Can Say is: 'Go Back'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 15, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 15, 2009 |

“The Jay Leno Show” is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on primetime television. Period. It’s the sort of show that the characters in Idiocracy would portend in their own future Idiocracy. It was a cable-access talk show with better guests. Nothing more.

I’d never seen more than a few minutes of “The Tonight Show,” when Leno was hosting, enough only to know that the comedy was spectacularly lame. But after experiencing the nauseating full hour of “The Jay Leno Show,” I’m truly beginning to understand the level of resentment David Letterman must have had when Leno stabbed him in the back 17 years ago and stole “The Tonight Show” away. It’s not just that Leno’s brand of humor is painfully pedestrian. It’s that there were no way Letterman could really compete with it. You can’t outsmart Leno; you can’t outwit him. To win that ratings battle, Letterman would’ve had to lower himself to something he wasn’t: A culturally irrelevant pinhead with a penchant for the obvious. You can’t curry mass appeal — it comes with lack of effort. Challenge your audience, and your audience will abandon you.

You can’t blame Leno fully; he appeals to some Middle-American sensibility that scoffs at intelligence; that proudly boasts of ignorance; and whose threshold for humor peers up at the Mendoza line and calls it elitist. Leno is not for people who want to turn their brains off after a long day of work; Leno is for people biologically incapable of turning their brain on. Leno fans are meatsacks and geriatrics. Soft-brained red-staters whose idea of subversiveness is watching CNN occasionally to get an idea of the “nutjob liberal perspective.” Show me a Leno fan, and I’ll show you incontrovertible proof that there’s no such thing as evolution.

The show itself is offensive only in its blandness — harmful more for what it isn’t than what it is: Three-month old yaks culled from USA Today headlines and processed through the brain of a retarded amoeba. The humor is even less inspired than the inarticulate and profane scribblings of Perez Hilton. The monologue resembled something you might hear at a Rotary Club dinner delivered with all the zip of Miracle Whip left out in the sun for a week — Viagra, Wilford Brimley, and Mark Sanford jokes. “Here’s an interesting statistic: 50 percent of women wish that men would take control in bed. The other 50 percent just wish that the man would put down the remote control.” Ah, 60’s gender humor, castoffs from “According to Jim,” and “The George Lopez Show” scripts. Comedic sludge caught in toxic chemical run-off.

Leno followed up the painfully cringeworthy monologue with a remote segment just as unbearable. Leno posed as a contestant on the reality show, “Cheaters,” and caught his bandleader hanging out with a Leno impersonator. A few suggestions of homosexuality ensued.

Three months off, and this is the best his writers could come up with?

The next segment involved the lead singer of the wedding band in The Hangover taking a couple of guys to a car wash and offering to provide free entertainment, which amounted to exchanging the lyrics to a few popular songs with lyrics relevant to a car wash, a seven-minute segment flatter than Kiera Knightley and more painful to watch than scooting my face along a mile-long length of asphalt.

Jerry Seinfeld was the first guest, alerting us to what would be the only major difference between the new show and the old: There’s no desk this time. Just a couple of sofa chairs to provide a more relaxed vibe and a better view of Leno’s knees and groin area. It was a fairly dull and mundane chat — Seinfeld brought out Oprah, who spent 90 seconds pimping the next season on her talk show. After that, Seinfeld and Leno exchanged a few gags from their1992 stand-up routines.

Leno then presented a mock interview with Obama, a four-minute segment — the highlight was Leno asking Obama to be his Facebook friend.

The only moment of entertainment value came when Kanye came out and attempted to apologize for his VMA outburst, and its only worth was in how sphincter-coiling awkward Kanye was when Leno asked him how his mother must have felt about the dust-up The outburst was treated with the same grim seriousness of a political scandal involving the fabrication of weapons of mass destruction to manipulate us into a war, instead of what it actually was: An arrogant jackass humiliating himself in front of a crowd of vapid celebrities. Kanye, thankfully, managed to compose himself enough to go out and perform with Jay-Z and Rihanna, performers Leno’s target audience is completely oblivious of.

Leno then, of course, ended his first show with the familiar Headlines segment, a dumbed-down gag he stole from Letterman nearly two decades ago. Newspaper typos and a yellow highlighter: Comedy gold, people.

I’ll refrain from stating the obvious: That the “future of television” looks awfully similar to the “Tonight Show” past. Not even I’m cynical enough to believe this is the future of television. It’s the immediate future of NBC, and nothing else. Nearly 18 million viewers tuned in last night to the premiere, out of curiosity, no doubt. I’m actually glad that so many people saw it — that’s 18 million people who hopefully won’t be tuning in again. Jay Leno certainly didn’t give them any reason to do so. Mid-season, when NBC finally comes to their senses and cancels this mess, will represent something of small victory for Dave. It’s the same offer they made to him before he bolted to CBS; Dave wisely turned it down. Now he’ll get to see just how smart a move that was.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.