Jimmy Fallon Wants America Back, and Lorne Michaels Might Help Him Get It

The Saturday Night Live season that will go down in history as the one that made President Donald Trump very upset might end with an episode hosted by the celebrity perhaps most closely associated with the phenomenon of normalizing Trump’s behavior.

Three episodes remain in the 42nd season of SNL, but there’s a strike-shaped cloud hanging over them. Should that cloud burst on May 2 and stick around for a couple weeks, the season will have ended with this Saturday’s episode, hosted by Jimmy Fallon with music from One Direction runaway Harry Styles.

When Fallon last hosted SNL in December 2013, he was riding high — believe it or not — from a wave of critical praise for his work hosting NBC’s Late Night, which came to an end two months later. He’d been tapped a few months earlier to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. That news was met with widespread approval from fans and critics alike.

Those days are but a distant memory now. Until recently, Fallon bested his late-night rivals by a wide margin in the ratings, but the Twittersphere and its associated ephemera quickly grew tired of his show’s zany antics and sycophantic interviews, which come at the expense of intellectual depth and emotional range. Adding fuel to the fire, Fallon also made several unsavory appearances in the tabloids, with admittedly sketchy reports suggesting his drinking and partying contributed to a string of high-profile injuries.

But nothing drew more online outrage than Fallon’s fawning conversation with Donald Trump on Sept. 15, 2016, less than two months before the most consequential presidential election in modern history. The amiable host’s hair-ruffling has been litigated ad nauseum in the weeks and months since, and rightfully so. Fallon’s indiscriminate, hyperbolic enthusiasm for all of his guests quickly turns sour and repulsive when future heads of state are involved.

The rest is history. Donald Trump won the election, one year after hosting his own controversial episode of SNL. (I had plenty of thoughts about that at the time, and most of them remain.) At least one voter was quoted in the New York Times pointing to Trump’s appearance on Fallon’s show as an appealing example of a “humble” moment for the 45th president, who is anything but. Fallon dodged the criticism while tipsy during a TMZ interview, and while giggly on SNL in October, when Tina Fey ribbed him in character for the hair moment during an ill-advised, unfunny Weekend Update cameo. Also in character, Fallon smiled and read his next line: “I did it one time! Get off my bra strap, cool police.”

Then in January, he hosted the Golden Globe Awards, tossing off a few Trump-related softballs before launching into an extended impression of Chris Rock. During an interview with Seth Meyers on The Tonight Show, Meyers let him off the hook for the hair controversy, and once again Fallon said nothing. He does not appear to have learned any lessons.

This Saturday, that may change. No one has said so on the record, but Fallon’s hosting appearance seems very much like Lorne Michaels, who executive produces both SNL and Fallon’s show, trying to help shore up Fallon’s ratings against surging timeslot competitor Stephen Colbert. At the very least, Michaels is giving Fallon an opportunity to change the narrative around his persona.

Can Fallon pull it off? It’s doubtful. Judging by recent shows, the current mood at SNL appears to be one of sustained antipathy for the confounding realities of the political moment. At least publicly, Fallon doesn’t share such passions, and will likely push for broader, sillier material. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If Fallon wants to be truly apolitical, booking presidential candidates on his talk show doesn’t make much sense. If he wants to atone for his perceived sins in the eyes of those who turned against him, a cynical attempt to rewrite the narrative might prove too craven to be effective. And if he wants simply to turn away from the turbulence and move on to a new chapter, well, he’s not the only one.

The M&M Report: The Pop Culture President

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On the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Devin and I look back on eight years of President Obama’s radical, unprecedented interactions with American popular culture. Topics include late-night talk shows, podcasts, stand-up comedy, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the NBA draft, Black-ishKey and PeeleHamilton and more.

Listen here. And please subscribe!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: A couple months ago, we made a behind-the-scenes change. If you’re already subscribed to The M&M Report on iTunes or the podcast provider of your choice, and you haven’t done so already, you need to RE-SUBSCRIBE in order to receive new episodes in your feed. We know this extra step will be annoying, but we’re excited about what it means for the future of the podcast. Tell your friends!

Stephen Colbert: Super Bowl Fumble, Sanders Touchdown

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On Sunday night, Stephen Colbert became the first host in the history of late-night TV to do a show immediately after the Super Bowl. That he and his team fumbled the gig should come as little surprise.

The post-Super Bowl slot has been a mixed blessing of late. Ratings for whatever show follows the nation’s most-watched television event of each year inevitably spike on that Sunday night, but the bump for subsequent episodes is far less substantial, even non-existent. Creatively speaking, most Super Bowl episodes are burdened with such high expectations from audiences and network executives that they’re more concerned with being big and loud than being good. By the end of an exhausting Super Bowl game and halftime show, the last thing most people want to do is keep their brain turned on for one to two more hours of programming, even if they keep their televisions on in an act of sheer inertia.

On top of all those built-in obstacles, Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show is uniquely unsuited to the task of following up the most expensive, expansive spectacle in American pop culture. Continue reading

The M&M Report: 2015 in Review

On this episode of The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I look back on our favorite movies, TV, music, cultural moments and more from the past year. Listen for Devin’s passionate-ish defense of Ballers and my emotional reaction to the triumphant rise of Oscar Isaac, as well as our choices for favorite movie, SNL episode and late-night TV development.


Don’t forget, you can now subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and download the feed directly into the podcast app of your choice. New episodes should show up on your feed immediately and on iTunes within a day or two of release. Subscribe away!

Peruse the M&M Report category page for previous episodes of the podcast. Thanks for listening!

“SNL 40”: Fortieth Verse, Similar to the First

Last night’s Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special began with a musical tribute to the show’s iconic characters performed by two of its most currently camera-ready stars. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake “History of Rap”-ified forty years of surreal catchphrases and gross-out gags before intoning the show’s now-infamous opening salvo.

“Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”

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“Saturday Night Live” Season 39: The Night Shift

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Another season of Saturday Night Live concluded on May 17 with a returning sketch in which Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong play retired porn stars advertising a luxury item for a quick buck. The sketch played, in some ways, as a microcosm of season 39. It was intermittently hilarious with an arguably unnecessary cameo appearance and a sense that these characters came back out of obligation rather than inspiration. It was SNL in a nutshell.

It’s not criticism to point out that Saturday Night Live is an inconsistent show. Some episodes are better than others, but few are uniformly perfect. Some sketches work, others don’t. Some cast members jell immediately, others take time, and still others never find their corner. Some recurring bits remain funny with repetition, others fall flat as they grow older. The appeal of Saturday Night Live is in the pursuit, not the attainment, of perfection. I watch each episode looking for the moments that I’ll remember in five to ten years, even while I’m fully aware that I’ll forget most of the show within a few weeks.

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Upheaval in Late-Night, Part 1: The Workhorse Rides Off Into the Sunset

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I grew up with Jay Leno.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve been an avid fan of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve watched it regularly, periodically or even intermittently. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I find Jay Leno funny.

That’s beside the point. Every weekday that I’ve been alive (barring holidays, the occasional vacation and the 9-month Conan-induced hiatus), Jay Leno has appeared on TV at 11:35 every night to tell jokes about the events of the day. Have those jokes been funny? Has he gotten better with age? Has he innovated within the late-night playground he inherited in 1992 from the legendary Johnny Carson? No. He’s simply written some jokes, delivered them, sat down with some celebrities, introduced the musical guest, said goodnight and disappeared until the next night, when he did it all over again.

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