By Hank Stuever
Stephen Colbert, right, talks with Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush during the premiere episode of “The Late Show.”
After all those months of build-up and anticipation (What would his show be like? Who would he be like?), CBS’s “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” turns out to be — as anyone might have sanely predicted — pretty much just a late-night show.
With an extra 14 minutes to play around on his premiere episode Tuesday night (a one-time extension), Colbert exerted a lot of pent-up energy and deployed most of his talent arsenal as funnyman, singer, high-kicker, consigner of devil pacts, playful narcissist, social commentator and binge-eater of Oreos — a fabulously demonstrated metaphor for the irresistible, junk-food bounty that is the Donald Trump presidential campaign.
For all the sketch writing and gags built in to this first “Late Show” (from CBS chairman Les Moonves sitting in the corner with a switch ready to revert to “The Mentalist” reruns that have been airing since David Letterman’s sign-off, to an awkward bit about being compelled by the aforementioned devil pact to promote Sabra hummus snacks), perhaps the finest, most thoughtful moment came at the beginning, when Colbert sang a beautiful, pre-taped rendition of the national anthem with different singers at various cross-country locales. There was something sweet and reassuringly corny about it while also seeming patriotic and meaningful in a slightly ironic sense — Lettermanesque, one might say, if Letterman could sing like that.
The real Stephen Colbert can’t resist Donald Trump.
Of course, what everyone tuned in to see was how well the 51-year-old host will do as an interviewer, stripped of the protective layer of the character he used to play on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” It’s no secret that a certain segment of late-night viewers are tired of the constant fun ‘n’ games and soft-glove treatment on other shows. Those viewers may be unfairly hoping Colbert can completely remedy that — or even wants to. He wasn’t hired to be Dick Cavett, after all.
Choosing George Clooney as the show’s first guest had, at the very least, an element of ceremony, bridging from those final Letterman shows to the all-new and smartly redecorated look of the Colbert show. Even the desk has moved, over to the more traditional stage right – a move Colbert has said the always stage-left Letterman told him he wished he’d tried.
Unfortunately, without a movie to promote or a political cause burning his britches, Clooney was more or less unformed (and very tan) putty. It was up to Colbert’s writers to employ him in a sketch about a fake movie (“Decision Strike”). Funny enough, but not the sort of clip that will get much social network traffic Wednesday morning.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”70560″]
Colbert was better able to show what he can do during his interview with GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, aka Jeb! When Bush launched into some boilerplate about his desire to make Washington work by bringing people together, Colbert, whose notoriety is arguably a by-product of a nation so divided that the left found solace in his ironic portrayal of a conservative idiot, wasn’t having it: “You think you could change that – [the belief] that the other side is the devil?” Colbert asked Bush.
He also asked Bush how (or if) he differs from his older brother politically. Bush answered that he thought George wasn’t fiscally conservative enough in the latter years of his term and let Congress spend too much. Whatever. Both Colbert and Bush seemed comfortable and somewhat loose, which is how the news cycle will judge either of them; the only problem with the interview was its brevity.
That was because “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” had given itself a little too much to do in one night, including booking a long outgoing jam of “Everyday People” from Batiste and the house band, called Stay Human; they were joined by Colbert, Mavis Staples and an array of musicians I feel terrible about not naming. This group sing-along meant that the show ended somewhat curiously with the spirit of a final episode instead of a first. (And I suppose putting the names of all those performers on the screen as the camera zoomed in on them would be considered gauche, like unwanted Facebook tagging, though it might have been helpful for those of us who haven’t made it down to Jazz Fest lately.)
Overall, “Late Show” seems to be in good hands. If it was too busy, it was a busy-ness from the heart. Everything else about it can — and will — be judged later.(Wishington post)