With all the middle-aged neuroses in latenight (beginning with those of David Letterman, who seems irritated merely mentioning this show, even though his company produces it), Craig Ferguson brings a sprightly, almost elfin presence to the scene — as if one of Darby O’Gill’s leprechauns was given a talkshow. Somewhat offsetting those good vibrations, alas, is the fact that the show hasn’t been especially funny, though Ferguson is such an easygoing presence — particularly when compared to Craig Kilborn’s frat-boy snark — that it’s difficult not to root for him at least a little.
With the exception of the standup-driven Leno, hosts have to make these franchises work at the desk, and Ferguson’s truncated monologues recognize as much. The host resembles a young Dick Van Dyke, and his playful persona thus far hinges on being bemused by the whole exercise, as if even he can’t believe he’s got the job.
Indeed, the first night Ferguson went so far as to entreat critics to “be nice” by taking into consideration that he was still breaking the desk in. Somebody should apprise Fox’s reality department of this strategy.
Three nights in, however, the scripted bits have been too uneven, with a segment titled “What’s in my drawers?” reflecting the stale aroma, no matter what the camera finds. Moreover, Ferguson’s genial “Can ya believe a Scotsman’s hostin’ a la’nigh’ show?” shtick can only go so far.
At this point, his efforts are abetted immeasurably when guests such as David Duchovny (who should contemplate becoming a professional guest) and Jon Cryer do most of the heavy lifting, an element of good fortune upon which no late-late series can consistently rely.
Beyond a need for sharper writing, Ferguson has betrayed that he isn’t doing much homework regarding the guests, asking questions that betray a lack of familiarity with their various projects. No one expects the hosts to see everything, but there’s a more artful way to mask such oversights.
The irony is that while Ferguson himself seems refreshingly laid back, the cattle-prodded studio audience tries too hard, applauding wildly (“Glasgow! Woo!”) at everything that’s said. Nobody’s asking for Tom Snyder here, but a pinch more sobriety wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Of course, anyone in this slot would face the awkward challenge of picking up from Letterman without threatening him, and in that respect, Ferguson appears well suited to the role. Still, when he featured a gag in which one of his crew watched NBC’s Conan O’Brien to provide updates and simply laughed convulsively, it was a small reminder as to where the remote would lead me the next time I was up at 12:37.
Not that I wouldn’t check in on Ferguson down the road to monitor his progress. Per his request, I’m trying to be nice.