Colbert Makes His Late Night Comeback & Brings Along Growing Pains

Photo: David Buchan/Variety/REX USA.
Expectations for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert are high — and frankly, they should be. As the face of The Colbert Report, its eponymous host introduced a new generation to a novel format of nightly news coverage. If loyal fans are going to stick with him over at CBS, he will have to keep up what he started — and continue to be one of the best in the business.

After watching last night's premiere episode though, I can't help but wonder: Does Stephen Colbert really belong on network late night? It seems like the slightly more conservative bent of the network might be the thing that holds him back.

Last night's Late Show got off to a gimmicky start — which seems pretty par for the course for a first timer. Colbert maybe even seemed a little uncharacteristically nervous — again, understandable, given the stakes of his new gig.

After an opening in which it was suggested that Colbert would be making certain advertiser-based concessions to the network gods, George Clooney showed up, for pretty much no reason except the fact that he is a famous. Both men acknowledged that the actor's presence — without pushing a particular film or project — was a little weird. The writers also built in this whole section of a fake spy film that the actor could have potentially been promoting, just to spice things up. It was obvious, intentional schtick, and Colbert was clearly self-aware about that.

But while there were a few titter-worthy moments during the non-interview that Colbert conducted, what was painfully clear is that the host just isn't yet in his groove. Fallon, and even Kimmel, are great at chatting up celebrities, but it's possible that Colbert is just too whip-smart for that: He's at his best when he's investigating and skewering, not when he's playing nice with pretty faces. We can only hope this segment will be improved by guests who actually have something to say: For his part, Clooney didn't really bring much to the table.

It wasn't until Jeb Bush showed up that we saw Colbert shine in the way that we're used to — he was fast and funny, on target and to the point. When Bush tried to brush off a question about how he differs from his brother, Colbert quickly brought him back to the topic at hand: Just like that, we saw a spark of the old show, and it was glorious.

Which leads me to my point: The problem with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is definitely not the man of the hour. Maybe we can blame the flaws from the first episode on the the growing pains of adjusting to a new network (not to mention a much longer time slot). But from what I have seen so far, The Late Show is a tamed, drawn out version of a fast, sharp, and funny Comedy Central series: If CBS doesn't let Colbert loosen up a little bit, I'm sorry to say I'll be tuning out.
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