James Corden Promises Late Late Show Fun   Leave a comment

Late Late Show James Corden

When Craig Ferguson announced his departure from The Late Late Show, I was shocked. It wouldn’t be too far off base to say that I went through a grieving process, something that seems more likely now that I’ve learned that people don’t go through *every* stage, instead going through at least two (in this case, for instance, I think that I didn’t experience Denial or Bargaining. I also don’t remember Anger. Is Anger one of the grief stages? I think Anger’s a grief stage.) Anyway, Craig worked to make his show the sort of talk show for people who don’t like talk shows. I don’t want to spend time here going into all the reasons that I enjoyed him as the host of the show, but it’s worth saying that Craig left some pretty big shoes to fill. I heard about the next guy, James Corden (who?) and instantly felt sorry for the guy. You’ve gotta follow Craig? You seem like a nice guy, yeah, but I don’t see how that transition’s gonna go smoothly.

Craig Ferguson’s final episode came and went (and it was an amazing episode, it even had Oom-Ra!), and there was much grieving. Craig moved on to other things in his career, and I came to love him on Celebrity Name Game. It’s a great show, and he’s still doing his stand-up comedy, so I’m no longer worried that my future will be Craig deprived. And then, The Late Late Show had a long, long time with guest hosts who I… I’m sad to say… didn’t really watch. Like I said, Craig was the host for people who didn’t like late night talk shows, so why would I want to watch a long series of people running general late night talk shows? I watched one of Drew Carrey’s nights, and it was fun, but apart from that I pretty much stayed away from it. I didn’t notice that this length of time provided an important service for James Corden; if James had followed Craig’s last episode after just a week or two, he’d have been “the guy taking over for Craig.” Instead, James wound up being “the guy who brought back the Late Late Show.” In my mind, at least. No one advertised it like that, or said it, but it’s important for me. He’s not The Rebound Host. So yesterday I saw a commercial reminding me that his first episode was mere hours away and I figured that I should give it a shot.

One element of the new show that I appreciated was a similarity to the previous one: Craig’s show had always suggested that it was a casual, laid-back thing. Craig invited you to just relax while he relaxed, and the two of you would relax together while a show happened. There was a personal touch, and James Corden’s show had a familiar personal touch from the start. The theme song invited us to just stick around and promised us that we’d have some fun. It felt inviting in a way similar to Craig Ferguson’s show, but also felt like it’s own thing. While this definitely didn’t have the “one-man show on a shoestring budget” element that Craig used, it still felt like a fun, almost homey, kind of thing.

The show opened with Corden giving a few lines of monologue, and a quick tour of the set and show before a video ran showing a Willy Wonka-esque scenario in which he became the host due to finding a golden ticket in a candy bar (that someone else bought and dropped, no less.) A number of other good host options tried finding their own candy bars (due to my recent Community kick, I especially enjoyed Joel McHale opening them in the Greendale cafeteria), but only he found the winner. This led to him going through a late night talk show boot camp of sorts, where a number of other celebrities helped to train him for doing monologues, listening to stories from the actors he interviews, and (for some reason) weight training. It was a delightful video, and instantly made me feel better about Corden’s chances. The one interesting thing that it managed, though, was that it meant he didn’t really need a monologue for his first episode. I mean, if this is a sign of things to come… if we’re in for a lot of video sketch comedies instead of monologues… great, I think I’d prefer it. But I also think they took advantage of the occasion for a chance at a certain idea. That’s not a criticism, incidentally, it’s a good idea; it’s just noteworthy that we’ll have to wait until tonight to see a “full monologue” from him (again, unless we’re just in for regular pre-filmed video skits.)

Like most talk shows of this sort, he had two guests, Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis. Unlike most shows like this that I’ve seen, he brought both guests out at the same time, so that they could speak to one another even when one segment is definitely more about one host than another (incidentally, I ran out of the room for a bit and missed most of the second interview segment, which was focused on Tom Hanks and seemed to be talking about something called “man spreading,” a way that some people sit to take up extra room on subway trains? I guess Tom Hanks was accused of that recently? Sounds like it’s not a big deal, though, given that the train was mostly empty.) Nothing amazing to comment on here, as one guest interview is pretty much like another (me thinking that is probably why I don’t watch many late night talk shows.) Ultimately, though, they were fun conversations about what Kunis and Hanks had been up to lately. After the Tom Hanks section was over, Corden’s band leader had a special question for them, an unusual hypothetical philosophical question about how people of the 1800s (might’ve been 1860s?) would have reacted to modern day life. Hanks gave the “correct” answer, that they lacked Velcro and, as such, effectively lived completely different lives.  (Also, it was awesome that Kunis referenced a Star Trek episode I watched ages ago.  I’ve not seen many Star Trek Enterprise episodes, but apparently one of the few I’ve seen is also one that Mila Kunis is aware of. It involved Velcro.)

Between the two interview segments, Corden ran something called “the show”, in which he and Tom Hanks quickly ran through most of the noteworthy films of Tom Hanks career. It was a fun idea, but I think the idea would’ve worked better if Hanks hadn’t been in so many movies. Still, some individual moments were good (especially Corden admitting that he still hadn’t seen Cloud Atlas, or didn’t understand it, and Hanks saying that it was fine, and it was a movie that really needed multiple viewings to get.) They ended with the Toy Story trilogy and concluded the segment with a rendition of You’ve Got A Friend In Me, which is a good way to end just about everything.

After the interview segments, the last real “thing” of the night was a musical sequence. Instead of a musical guest, it had Corden pretending to play the piano, and singing about everything they did on the show that night, saying that his dreams had come true by being given this chance, and promising to make the show good from there on out. I don’t know if I’d like to see that every night, but… I’d like to see him do more piano-songs. Maybe once or twice a week, singing about everything they’d done. While I sit here writing this, I’m realizing that the sequence was almost a stand in for the “What Did We Learn On The Show Tonight, Craig?” thing that Ferguson did for the majority of his run on the show, but it felt more classy. I don’t think that was intentional, but it’s an interesting comparison.

One thing I’ll definitely say about the show is that it has higher production values than Craig used and (more importantly) it’s more musical. I’d love it if James Corden dedicated his new show to being music-heavy. It’d be challenging, but ultimately I think that if the show does as much with music in the future as it did this time, I’d be thrilled, and even happy to watch it.

At the end of the day (literally), I enjoyed this show. It was fun. Corden came out strong, and avoided a lot of the mistakes that Seth Meyers made on his first night. I’ve heard that Meyers has improved and that he no longer just sounds like he’s doing nothing but the Weekend Update without a desk, and I’m glad for Meyers, but ultimately I didn’t wind up watching Meyers after he started running his show. But Corden? Corden, I think I’ll keep watching. For a bit at least. I don’t know if he’ll keep the production values up to this, but I can hope.  Good luck out there, Corden.

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