Conan O'Brien returned to television last night with the premiere of his new TBS show, Conan, interviewing Knocked Up star Seth Rogen and Glee actress Lea Michele, and even jamming with musician Jack White. Despite months of build-up and huge ratings, critics almost unanimously agreed that Conan was too "modest" in scope, relying on the traditional format of other late-night shows instead of forging a new path. Did that make for hilarity or just a ho-hum hour of television? (Watch Conan's first monologue)
O'Brien played things too safe: If Conan is going to succeed at TBS, says Linda Holmes at NPR, "he is going to have to take more risks." Last night, he was trying to please everyone, fusing the "basic late-night talk show" format with only a hint of "the low-budget, off-kilter sensibility" his fans expect. But "nobody is watching Conan on TBS hoping to see a Leno/Letterman imitator."
"The first 'Conan': O'Brien takes baby steps toward something new"
He gave some fans what they wanted: Sure, Team Coco didn't try anything new, says Oscar Dahl at MSNBC, but I think "it's to their credit ... that they didn't overstep their bounds." Instead, it was an hour of "the Conan I know and love." The smaller moments of last night's show — Conan's banter with Andy Richter and his guitar duet with Jack White — were its best, and made me feel like "my old friend is back."
"Conan is back — all is right with the world"
Let Leno-gate go, Conan: Conan riffed amusingly on the Late Night wars throughout last night's show, says James Poniewozik in Time, but I'm hoping for more than just NBC-bashing gags moving forward. While "it would be silly to expect him to ignore the reason for his show's being," Conan ought to leave the past "where it belongs."
"Conan returns: Stop me if you've heard this one before"