×

TV Review: ‘The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’

With:
Host: Stephen Colbert. Bandleader: Jon Batiste

Facing almost impossibly high expectations, Stephen Colbert seemingly raced through a checklist of agenda-setting moments in his mostly terrific “The Late Show” debut. Cameo by Jon Stewart. Check. Work in CBS CEO Leslie Moonves. Check. Earnestly pay tribute to David Letterman. Check. And perhaps most pleasantly, throw in a nod to late-night rival Jimmy Fallon, proving this won’t be a bitter Letterman-Jay Leno-type rivalry. If the goal was establish the CBS show as fun-loving (a silly bit with George Clooney) yet potentially topical (an interview with Jeb Bush), as another Bush family member might say, “Mission accomplished.”

Of course, the one ridiculous question that has dogged Colbert in the buildup to his CBS premiere has been whether anyone knows the real guy, inasmuch as he played a character throughout his run on Comedy Central. The answer is pretty obvious: If you’re smart and funny enough to improvise in that manner, you ought to be able to conjure some spontaneous comedy without requiring that bag of tricks.

Not surprisingly, Colbert looked least at ease during the opening monologue, which doesn’t really play to, or at least fully capitalize upon, all of his strengths as a performer. Wisely, he pretty quickly segued to behind the desk, where the show essentially took off.

After an amusing shtick with Moonves – in which the CBS honcho periodically preempted “Late Show” for “The Mentalist” reruns that had been keeping the time slot warm – Colbert expressed his admiration for Letterman, no doubt speaking for a segment of his audience when he discussed discovering the host while in college. Letterman, he said, represents “a high pencil mark on a door frame we all have to measure ourselves against,” a beautifully articulated sentiment on how Letterman influenced the generation of comics that followed.

It was during the next section, however, where Colbert really hit his stride, engaging in a hilarious bit in which he sold his soul by plugging a sponsor, then analogizing the comedic urge to ridicule presidential candidate Donald Trump to the way people consume Oreos – namely, it’s hard to eat just one. Put together, those sequences captured Colbert’s gifts as a performer and ability to be witty and zany all at once, in a manner few can replicate.

That approach worked more fitfully with first guest Clooney. Although it was a funny idea to lampoon the two having nothing to talk about without a movie to plug, it actually would have been nice to give the actor-director a little time to discuss his interest in Darfur, as opposed to racing into that bit.

Colbert was better during the Bush interview, prodding the candidate on how he would make politics less partisan, and using his own brother as an example, cleverly, to ask, “In what ways do you politically differ from your brother George?” He also opened with a question that probably isn’t posed enough – “Why do you want to be President of the United States?” — proceeding to demonstrate that his own politics won’t get in the way of conducting thoughtful yet entertaining discussions.

The clunky elements within the expanded premiere, actually, were somewhat beyond Colbert’s control, foremost among them a staggering nine-minute break between Clooney and Bush. Yes, the network’s got to pay the bills, but even allowing for the fact the original material was frontloaded, that felt borderline numbing – a description that also applies to the audience continuing to chant, “Stephen! Stephen!” well past the opening love fest.

Colbert closed the show by joining Mavis Staples and his band in a joyous sing-along, reflecting the infusion of energy he brings to this CBS franchise. Although he joked at the outset about the benefits of having nine months to produce a single hour of TV, Colbert looks like he has the skill set to settle in and make this job his own, night in and night out. And if that’s true, he just might leave his own lofty mark on that door frame.

TV Review: 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert'

(Series; CBS, Tue. Sept. 8, 11:35 p.m.)

Production: Produced in New York by Spartina and The Late Show Inc., a CBS company.

Crew: Executive producers, Stephen Colbert, Tom Purcell, Meredith Bennett, Jon Stewart; co-executive producers, Barry Julien, Emily Lazar; director, Jim Hoskinson. 69 MIN.

Cast: Host: Stephen Colbert. Bandleader: Jon Batiste

More TV

  • 60 Minutes" reporter Lara Logan takes

    Lara Logan Says She's Been 'Targeted' for Her Claims of Liberal Media Bias

    Former CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan appeared on “Hannity” Wednesday evening to expand on her recent remarks characterizing the media as “mostly liberal.” “It’s obvious, right, because you get targeted,” she said, explaining her earlier comments that she was committing “professional suicide” by criticizing the media. “It’s the same group of people, they’re already [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    'Empire' Producers Consider Suspending Jussie Smollett (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fox is considering removing Jussie Smollett from production on “Empire.” Sources close to the production told Variety that producers are weighing whether to suspend the actor after he was charged Wednesday in Chicago with filing a false police report. A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the series, declined to comment. Smollett’s status on [...]

  • Game of Thrones Final Season: Best

    The Best 'Game of Thrones' Merch to Get You Ready for the New Season

    We’re just weeks away from the premiere of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” and whether you’re a die-hard fan, on the hunt for a novelty gift, or a serious collector hoping to nab some memorabilia before the series signs off for good, we’ve found 10 pieces of merch that pay tribute to one [...]

  • Ryan KadroPaleyLive NY: The News Is

    Ryan Kadro Will Join Quibi to Oversee News Programming (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Kadro left CBS News several weeks ago, but he isn’t leaving the news business. Kadro, the former executive producer of “CBS This Morning” is set to join Quibi, the company led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman that is devoted to short-form  content. Kadro is expected to oversee news programming for the subscription-based service, [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Charged With Filing False Police Report

    “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with filing a false police report, the Chicago police said Wednesday. “Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter. Smollett is due to appear in court for a bond hearing at 1:30 p.m. [...]

  • Coast Guard Lieutenant Hit List

    Coast Guard Lieutenant Targeted CNN, MSNBC Anchors and Democrats for Attacks

    Anchors at CNN and MSNBC and prominent Democrats were targeted for attack by a Coast Guard lieutenant arrested Friday on a firearms charge, according to federal prosecutors in Maryland. In court documents revealed Tuesday, prosecutors describe the firearms and controlled substance charges Christopher Paul Hasson is facing as “the proverbial tip of the iceberg.” CNN’s [...]

  • TV News Roundup: HBO Releases 'The

    TV News Roundup: HBO Drops Trailer for 'The Case Against Adnan Syed' (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO released the first official trailer for its upcoming docu-series “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” and Freeform announced three new cast members for its upcoming comedy series “Besties,” starring Jordin Sparks. DATES Netflix’s upcoming docu-series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” is set to premiere March 8 on the streaming platform. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content