How Can George Lopez Deliver the Funny? By Being Himself

Media Reviews for Media People: 'Lopez Tonight'

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I have never been predisposed to loathe a new TV show more than I have "Lopez Tonight". During the baseball playoffs, TBS promoted it with the tenacity of a grandmother badgering her holiday-table guests to polish off the brisket. By the time the World Series came around, I'd viewed approximately 31,200 ads for it, just as I'd viewed 72,791 spots for the since-canceled "Frank TV" in 2007 and 2008. Way to make the same mistake twice, TBS marketeers.

There's a distinctive late-night comedy show in here somewhere.
There's a distinctive late-night comedy show in here somewhere. Credit: TBS
Anyway, the money spot for "Lopez Tonight" featured folks from all walks of life abandoning their jobs and loved ones -- a mohel derelicting his duty mid-snip, a dad leaving his infant son in the care of Betty Draper, etc. -- to whoop it up with George at a hyper-triple-multicultural street party. The ads weren't inadvertently hysterical in the way that the similarly overflogged BlackBerry ("broccoli-haired krumpette triumphs over her insecurities") and John Hancock ("creased-brow retirees-to-be communicate concern about placing paw-paw out to pasture via instant message") ones were. Nonetheless, I came to despise their tenor and frequency, and in turn transferred my antipathy to "Lopez Tonight" itself.

The irony is that I've long admired Lopez's punchy comic persona. I don't find the guy funny in the way that I do Bill Hicks or place his commentaries on race/ethnicity in the same lofty category as those of Richard Pryor, but the guy's voice is unique. As quip-retardant personalities like Pat Sajak, Magic Johnson, Stephanie Miller and Keenan Ivory Wayans summarily had their late-night licenses revoked, I wondered why Lopez hadn't been given his own shot behind a desk. He couldn't possibly do any worse, right? Hence I went into the initial airings of the show as open-mindedly as I could, given the annoyance engendered by the over-airing of the ads.

"Lopez Tonight" has potential. This isn't to damn it with faint praise so much as to express my hope that, in a few weeks' time, the host will stop kowtowing to the masses and revert to the persona that made him famous. There's a distinctive late-night comedy show in here somewhere.

Right now, however, Lopez's problem is that he's trying to do 37 different shows at once. At the start of the first few episodes, he offered a multilingual call to arms, proudly heralding his status as the first Latino host of a late-night program. That's not a milestone to be dismissed, but let's be honest: Viewers aren't tuning in for a giggly version of the United Nations. They're tuning in to be entertained.

Lopez can spout about inclusiveness ("We're about inclusion"), the country's demographic makeup ("This is what America looks like") and the supposed revolutionarinessitude of his elevation to the host spot ("The revolution begins right now ... we're bringing change to late-night TV!") all he wants. The bottom line is that these frequent bleats are at odds with the unavoidable we're-havin'-a-blast-whooo!-check-out-that-guy-over-there-with-a-lampshade-on-his-noggin marketing that preceded its debut. Each night, the announcer describes Burbank, where the show is taped, as "the new party capital of the world!" Thus Lopez has to deliver the funny, which may well require that he cut back on the multiculturalism PSAs. He can't have it both ways.

In its first week, "Lopez Tonight" was at its best during its rare unscripted moments. The monologue lost steam by night two, when Lopez devoted nearly three minutes to riffs on the ineluctable shortness of Verne Troyer (fellow pop-cultural punchlines of yesteryear, consider yourself on notice). The taped segments came across as strained, especially an interminable bit in which Lopez and BFF Marc Anthony playfully trashed the Anthony/J-Lo residence. The interviews played like a group hug, as Lopez's chats with Eva Longoria Parker ("You look great! I love you!") and Kobe Bryant ("You are adept at the sport of basketball! I love you!") made Arsenio Hall look like Charlie Rose.

But later in the week, during a two-segment sit-down with the awesomely un-PC Lisa Lampanelli, Lopez appeared at ease and engaged for the first time. As Lampanelli rampaged through several topics that can't be identified in a family column such as this, Lopez expertly nudged her even closer to the censor's crosshairs, adding several inspired bits of his own in the process. That's the show that viewers can't see anywhere else in the 11 p.m. hour. That's sustainable.

Other tweaks can be made. As much as I believe that dancing girls enliven everything from grocery procurement to poetry readings, the two gals stationed next to the over-caffeinated band seem a bit extraneous. Along those lines, the audience needs to be tranquilized, as they cheer and laugh and woof-woof-woof as if doing so under threat of bodily harm.

Still, I find myself rooting for "Lopez Tonight." Lopez's easy glibness should pair easily with unisyllabic starlets promoting their latest projects, while his stereotype-deflating riffs should play well during the 11 p.m. hour. My advice? Check in with him again in a few weeks.

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