The Best and Worst of Network Late Night

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Best Overall Host: Conan O’Brien

He’s still funny, even if he’s lost a bit of his zing over the years, and I think he’ll make a fine Tonight Show host. As long as he doesn’t have to carry over any of Jay Leno’s schtick.

Worst Overall Host: Carson Daly

Just give up! Nobody watches this show!

Best Monologue: Jimmy Kimmel

Although Conan still does some good work, monologue-wise, Jimmy Kimmel is consistently more natural and, well, funnier.

Worst Monologue: Carson Daly

Pathetic. Just pathetic.

Best Banter and Improvisation: Craig Ferguson

While his show may be a bit of a late night oddity, you have to admit that he’s got the gift of gab. His roundabout style of arriving at a point is also amusing and satisfying.

Worst Banter and Improvisation: Jay Leno

That Ryan Phillippe gay joke thing solidified it. But he already sucked.

Best Sketches: Conan O’Brien

They don’t always make sense, but they usually make me laugh. Especially the “Walker: Texas Ranger” lever.

Worst Sketches: David Letterman

I understand that he’s crazy and old, but does that mean I have to watch him hurl things off his roof? I can watch my crazy Brooklyn neighbors do that for free.

Best Regular Bit: Unnecessary Bleeping (Jimmy Kimmel)

It’s amazing what a little bit of implied profanity can do.

Worst Regular Bit: Jaywalking (Jay Leno)

I get it, there are a lot of really retarded people walking around L.A.. That’s why I live in New York.

Best Sidekick or Notable Regular: Guillermo (Jimmy Kimmel)

He’s a Mexican stereotype, yes, but he seems to be okay with it.

Worst Sidekick or Notable Regular: Paul the Keyboardist (David Letterman)

I know he’s a perfectly nice guy, but he shouldn’t talk.

Honorary Mention for Effort: Spike Ferensten

This poor guy. He thinks he has a late night show. Just give him a couple more years to enjoy it.

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Short List: Laura’s Top 5 TV Favorites Right Now

1. Bill Moyers’ Journal (PBS)

His guests are always interesting, well-spoken, and inspiring. Plus he’s the best journalist on TV, period.

2. Everything on C-SPAN 1 & 2 (particularly the House proceedings and the call-in shows)

Forget scripted television — Dennis Kucinich’s 5-hour resolution to impeach Bush in the House last night was the most entertaining thing on TV.  For the first couple of hours, at least.  And those call-in shows are comic gold due to the ignorant callers and the reactions of the hosts.

3. 30 Rock (NBC)

It’s only getting funnier, and highlights just how terrible all the other networks’ TV comedies are.

4. The L Word (Showtime)

Yeah, it’s cheesy as hell, but I was a fan of “Passions” for years, so this is like “War and Peace” comparatively.  And despite what anyone says, The L Word is totally a soap opera, just one with lots of lesbians and bad music.  But it’s addictive as hell, what can I say?  And I liked the “All About Eve” references in the last season.  Too bad it’s only getting renewed for like 8 more episodes.

5. South Park (Comedy Central)

I am mostly adding this to the list because, since they’ve offered the show for free online, it’s been a great go-to for instant, awesome entertainment, and I’ve gotten to catch up on the episodes I sadly miss because I don’t have cable.  And that Britney Spears episode a month or two back was really disturbing and good.

Obama wins — Kucinich for VP!

Now that Barack Obama has all but secured the nomination blah blah blah, the only question that remains is, will he man up and pick someone who’s actually cool for his running mate?  I say Dennis Kucinich would be the perfect choice (except that it would make Obama a potential laughingstock).  Otherwise I don’t know…Al Gore?  Ugh, whatever.  I’m just glad it’s over.

And to all those Hillary supporters who now want to vote for McCain out of spite — for shame!  Don’t come whining to the rest of us when you have to get a back alley abortion.

Fleet Foxes (Self-Titled)

fleet foxes self titled

When considered without any contextual information, it’s difficult to group Fleet Foxes immediately within the tumultuous Seattle music scene from which they’ve emerged. With their long beards, country guitar sound, and tale-telling lyrics, one imagines rather that their self-titled debut is the result of its members spending several months strumming strings ‘round a camp fire. This summer camp feel is guided by the sagelike Robin Pecknold, who brings wisdom to the lyrics and provides a striking point of focus to the vocally-dominated album. The group’s sound is infused with a vibrancy that seems inspired more by the openness and inherent creativity of nature than the stifling conformity of a major world city. As the songs consider folkloric themes while moving with this honesty and freedom suggestive of the vast expanse of the open countryside, they remain grounded in the roots of pop music to bring on some downright rockin’ moments.

That is not to say, however, that Seattle isn’t an inspiring city filled with creative minds and enriched by a long history — Fleet Foxes have taken their unique set of personal stories birthed in this town and added to them an awesome bit of old-timeyness that makes the band seem wise enough to be worth listening to. This is highly appropriate, because frontman Pecknold lists as early influences some of the many staples of 60’s rock, such as The Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash. These boys have paired their musical upbringings — some apparently soaked in the classic structures of early pop — with a healthy curiosity inspired by the era from which they actually come. With their strong ear for catchy melodies, careful crafting of many individual parts, and astounding obsession with the power of harmony, the songs on Fleet Foxes perform the simple task of pleasing the ear while still taking plenty of creative adventures.

And adventure is indeed an appropriate term. Fleet Foxes meticulously blend a sometimes alarming number of instrumental and vocal parts to create songs that sound rewardingly rich and full. This description can be applied to their melodies as well, which while individually catchy and reflective of fine compositional talent, are constantly being prodded and reworked to see just how far they can be taken. In this baroque fashion the focal points of the songs shift and move around so that while one may find themselves tapping their toe, that does not necessarily mean they’ve understood the main arc of the song, for even the jumpiest moments can soon give way to a watery refrain or a moment of quiet vocal reflection. Pecknold’s self-confessed interest in harmony is easily detectable throughout the album, and is masterfully explored in a variety of ways that go beyond regular rock band accompaniment. Every member of the group, it seems, is required to contribute some vocal talent, an idea exemplified by such moments as the radio variety program album opener on “Sun it Rises” and the intensely angelic choral tinkerings of “White Winter Hymnal.”

It would be easy to bunch Fleet Foxes with the Southern rock genre because of their throwback themes, porch collective big sound, and the voice of Pecknold that at times recalls Band of HorsesBen Bridwell. While not entirely inappropriate, this categorization won’t do simply because Fleet Foxes’ tendencies go beyond the fundamentals of Southern rock. Sure there can be heard a lot of guitar plucking and eager banjo playing in these tracks, but the group’s curiosity with vocal and melodic structure takes them to new places comparable to modern bands like Grizzly Bear. While certainly refreshing and admirable, a reminder that this is in fact their first full-length album comes in the disc’s second half when the songs begin to sound soupy and blend together a bit, as if this experiment forgot the structure of a satisfying, complete album and wandered too far into the woods. Fleet Foxes never stops pleasing the ear, but loses some of its initial grabbing power as the tracks become muddled and the individual song ideas less developed. Saving the experience is the lovely closing track “Oliver James” that finds Pecknold alone with just his boys-choir warble, a lonely guitar and a bit of rhythm. It seems to bring the campfire session to a late night close, its haunting echo reminding listeners of Fleet Foxes’ simple beauty and profound ability to tell a tale of old.