Team Coco Back for More

Back from the abyss of canceled shows, Conan O’Brien made a triumphant return to the realm of late-night TV last Monday. O’Brien’s new show, aptly titled “Conan,” has found a home Monday through Thursday on TBS at 11 p.m.

Conan, or, “Coco,” as he is known to his loyal fans, has re-emerged with his fiery red beard and his old sidekick Andy Richter. Drummer Max Weinberg did not join the transition to TBS, a sad reality for anyone who enjoyed the classic stare-downs between O’Brien and Weinberg on their previous shows. Between his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” countrywide tour and wildly popular Twitter account (nearly 2 million followers), Conan has been building momentum for his cable rebirth for months. I think it’s safe to say that since the “Tonight Show” blowup, Conan has enjoyed more sympathy and support than anyone who has ever been given over $30 million to leave a network.

For the premiere episode, Conan and company seemed to be working off the rust that had built up over their 10-month hiatus. Opening with a (supposedly) fictional timeline of his life since the NBC banishment, we see Conan contemplating jumping off a bridge before his guardian angel, Larry King, tells him to contemplate two words: basic cable. This leads Conan to accepting an offer of “Much Less” from TBS. While the opening was hilarious, the monologue was where Conan seemed to be working out the kinks, although he did find time to make a few digs at his former employer.

The inaugural first guest, Seth Rogen, came on and discussed the uncomfortable situation he found himself in while proposing to his bare-chested girlfriend. Rogen’s appearance illuminated Conan’s unmatched ability to make a talk show conversation appear like a normal chat between two friends (quick tangent: the commercials for Ray Romano’s “Men of a Certain Age,” which are on an endless loop during “Conan” breaks, are making me seriously consider whether life is worth living past the age of 45.)

All the laughs provided by Conan and Rogen were quickly silenced by his next guest, “Glee” star Lea Michele. Perhaps my burning hatred for all things “Glee” had me on edge, but Michele’s mindless yakking had me scrambling for the remote control. Nevertheless, Conan and musical guest Jack White were able to salvage the last segment with a rousing rendition of Eddie Cochran’s “20 Flight Rock,” complete with dueling guitar solos.

While his first show was an exercise in hit-and-miss, Conan made it clear he had not lost his quirky sense of self-deprecating humor. As the week progressed, Conan started to walk the, “Is that acceptable on television?” line, which was the beauty of his “Late Night” gig (The Masturbating Bear, anyone?). This was the case during a Tuesday sketch in which Conan visited the office of a TBS executive hoping to find out what he could and could not do on cable. Conan peppered him with a list of obscure sexual innuendos including the “Tokyo Sandblaster,” and asked how much camera time he was allowed while wearing ass-less pants (4 seconds was the answer). On Thursday night, O’Brien and Richter anchored their version of the local news. Andy played the part of weatherman, insisting “rain, wind, clouds, other stuff” were on the horizon, then doubling as the sports guy and proclaiming “your team won.” Segments like these make it clear why Conan resonates with young people infinitely better than the sellout humor of Jay Leno — a man whose best act, “Headlines,” consists of glorifying newspaper typos that his viewers send in. Is that really all it takes to be called a comedian?

In all honesty, O’Brien’s version of the “Tonight Show” was a disappointment because it did not follow the formula he had mastered at 12:30. Instead of being his flamboyant self, it felt as if Conan was curtailing his comedic energy to pander to the older crowd watching the “Tonight Show.” By watering down his show, O’Brien has alienated his younger fans while also failing to keep the grandma demographic that Leno milks with his lowbrow riffs. Not until it was announced Leno would be re-inheriting the “Tonight Show” did the “old” Conan surface, doing everything he could to humiliate NBC.

I can’t help but think maybe Conan being exiled from “The Tonight Show” was the best option for O’Brien and Leno fans: Conan is now free on TBS to showcase his true comedic talents while Leno is able to retain his position as a non-threatening hack. This may also be a blessing in disguise for Conan not only in terms of comic freedom, but also in his ability to take some revenge on his former employer. With over 4 million viewers for his first episode and an average of nearly 3 million for the entire week, O’Brien is presented with an opportunity to capitalize on the freefalling ratings of Leno. For the record, I’ll be lending my support to Team Coco in the battle for late night TV, no matter how many “Men of a Certain Age” commercials I have to endure.

Sean Burch is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at sburch@uci.edu.