James Corden began his era of hosting The Late Late Show on Monday with an assured, charming first night. The British Corden did a nice job of mixing daffy humor with earnest sincerity, both qualities necessary to survive over the long haul on late-night TV.
The night began with less of a monologue than opening remarks, as Corden charmed us by being grateful for the “privilege to be given a show like this” and introduced his beaming parents in the audience. That was followed by a star-packed taped bit about how Corden got the job. The funny idea was that CBS president Les Moonves pulled a Willie Wonka and hid a golden ticket in a chocolate bar. Various celebs including Simon Cowell, Chris Rock, Lena Dunham, and Billy Crystal all opened their chocolate to disappointment. But then Chelsea Handler — often mentioned as a possibility to host once Craig Ferguson announced his retirement — was seen dropping her candy on the street, only to have it picked up by Corden: It was the winning food item.
Corden’s first guests were Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis, who were ushered onto the new Late Late Show set together, and interviewed simultaneously by the host, who came out from behind the desk to quiz them as they sat on a sofa. This break with the one-guest-at-a-time format isn’t unprecedented in America — Merv Griffin and Jack Paar, to name just two, used to do it regularly. But what it really connects Corden to is a contemporary British chat-show tradition: You can see Graham Norton, for example, do the all-the-guests-at-once thing on his show, which airs here on BBC America.
The interviews weren’t especially amusing — Corden has to work on getting a real three-way conversation going, but all that will take is repetition over a few nights. The segment that will get the most Internet views, however, was a taped bit with Corden and Hanks running through Hanks’s filmography with shifting costumes and backdrops — again, it was clever, if not hilarious. But it places Corden squarely in the new tradition of Jimmy Fallon — a host who wants people who don’t stay up to watch TV after midnight to check out a crowd-pleaser on their laptops or smartphones the next morning.
Corden has a nicely loud band led by Reggie Watts, who is clearly going to double as a sidekick and maker of mirth himself. Anyone who’s seen him on IFC’s mock talk-show Comedy Bang! Bang! knows he’s more than capable at this stuff.
It’s standard to say in opening-night talk show reviews that no early judgment will stand, that it will take a few weeks to work the kinks out and see what Corden can really do with the format. But actually, Corden did a terrific job of showcasing all his talents, including singing a ballad at the end of this first night. He’s well on his way to being a nightly crowd-pleaser whom you may be talking about the next day.