To answer your question: No, the Masturbating Bear did not make an appearance. But other than the absence of some beloved characters—we were really hoping to see Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, especially after his raucous stint at the MTV Movie Awards—almost everything about Conan O’Brien’s first night as host of The Tonight Show was on par with his work as host of Late Night: Conan was funny, using his typical mix of nervous energy and sincere bemusement to get the most out of even tired monologue jokes. (The Clippers? Really?) The show was populated with loads of pre-produced bits, the best of which included Conan taking over a tour of Universal Studios and buying everyone stuff from a 99-cent store (let Oprah give away Amazon Kindles, leave the toilet paper to Conan). And the crowd was pitched to feverish levels (there is a distinct possible that no late night personality has ever had such a rabid live audience as Conan does on a consistent basis). At least for now, the reports of Mr. O’Brien having to vastly change his entire persona to reach Middle America were greatly exaggerated.
As you probably noticed, we have yet to mention Andy Richter. Mostly, that’s because we’re still processing how earth-shatteringly terrible he was as the Tonight Show announcer. Truth be told, we haven’t really liked anything Mr. Richter has done since he left Conan’s side the first time (Ed. note: Well, not ALL of us! Andy Barker P.I. was adorable!), but our hopes were set high for the reunion. (Who doesn’t love a good staring contest, right?) What a disappointment! Relegated to a small podium off to the side of the stage that made him seem more like a maitre d’ than an integral part of a television broadcast, Mr. Richter preened and chuckled to an utterly annoying degree. (Note to the producers: No one wants to hear Andy fake laugh at every little thing Conan says; please turn his mic down.) He seemed to throw Conan off his game, twice interrupting his monologue with unfunny, “look over here”-type jokes that didn’t accomplish anything. At first we thought Mr. Richter was doing some sort of comedic bit—a play on Ed McMahon, complete with over-the-top faux-enthusiasm—but it never had any payoff. Other than loyalty, we’re not quite sure why Mr. O’Brien brought Mr. Richter with him to 11:30—he’s done fine without a sidekick for so long, why take a step backwards?
We had other, less damning, nitpicks as well: The set itself was absolutely massive. By the naked eye it seems to be five times larger than what Conan had to work with on Late Night—this isn’t a big deal, until you realize it took him what felt like three minutes to walk across and thank Pearl Jam after they performed. And we aren’t entirely sure we love the background behind Conan’s desk. (Why is there a giant piece of plastic right next to his head?)
Still, quibbles aside, you can put Conan’s first show down in the win category. This might not be your father’s Tonight Show, but it’s certainly looks a lot like his Late Night.