G.I. Conan

Conan O’Brien often starts off his late night talkshow Conan with the words ‘we’ve got a lot of fun stuff planned’, but the best stuff comes from outside the studio. The carefully constructed taping of his show is one of the most professional ones in the late night landscape, but whenever he’s out on a trip, whether it’s Cuba, Texas or ComicCon, his improvisation skills often create something truly funny, heartfelt and real.


Security Reasons
Conan travelled to the Al Udeid Air Base in early November 2015, having been invited to perform in front of the troops by none other than Michelle Obama. Apparently, he flew over there (Qatar) with the First Lady, but due to ‘security reasons’, there were no cameras allowed on the plane. It always makes me wonder what those reasons could be. Were they scared there’d be a bomb inside the microphone or boom pole? Could ‘the enemy’ use the footage of the interior in any way to their advantage? Or didn’t they just want Conan to take out the minibar, joke about the food, walk around and look inside every cabinet for comedic purposes? Really, what could it be? It was a blessing in disguise, though, because now they were able to make a crappy looking but funny 3D animation about Conan’s arrival, much like the instruction videos on airplanes. ‘Mission Conan’ has begun.

At the compound, which doesn’t seem more than a bunch of beige buildings in a beige desert – not a tree in sight -, Conan bonds with one of the trained German Shepherds, called Astor. He puts on one of those suits only ‘fat men dressed as hobos’ wear, walks away and the dog’s sent after him. Conan quickly goes down, but he and Astor are friends for life. He also pays a visit to the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) barracks, where all the cool Hurt Locker stuff is stored. He suits up again, Jeremy Renner style, plays around with the ‘tools we use to perform procedures on devices’ (an as vague description as you can get, because: top secret), and gives especially Bradley Kline a very hard time. Why? For making him say his name. A lot. Apparently, there’s a tradition inside the military, that if you get mentioned by the media in any shape or form, you have to buy beer for anyone who’s seen it. Suffice to say, Kline filed for bankruptcy before the show ended.


No Boat In Desert
After a nice (promotional) chat with Michelle, about ‘Joining Forces’, and doing 20-something pushups for her (even though she asked for 50), it’s time for the main course: Conan on stage. He doesn’t dish up old jokes, or ones about the military in general. No, he’s written a great speech about that specific base and its specific rules, names and the branches stationed there: 75% Airforce, 22% Army, 2% Marines and 1% the Navy. In the desert. The Navy. ‘Desert, desert. No boat in desert’, as Conan puts it. ‘Don’t know why you’re here.’

Conan absolutely steals the show, which is why his guests, the lesser-known comedians Laurie Kilmartin, Brian Kiley and John Mulaney, who have to come on after him, are tasked with an impossible job. Their standup routines fall flat – at least in the montage. Mulaney’s the best of the rest, with a great cow comparison, but none of them seem to have written something about their time in Qatar. Maybe it all got cut, because of time, but I would’ve left that stuff in and thrown all the non-army, non-sandbox material out. Grace Potter closes the night, with a little help from Conan’s band leader Jimmy Vivino. Potter sings her biggest hit ‘Paris (Ooh La La)’, and plays the guitar by not even touching it, which is a bit strange. Anyway, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of time, making such Conan specials, but they’re awesome.

Why Angie Tribeca Doesn’t Work in 2016

In an attempt to beat the competition with their own weapons, TBS has released the complete first season of Angie Tribeca on January 17. You can binge it until you’re blue in the face, or watch the first 10 episodes whenever you feel like it. Do it quickly, though, because on January 25, the second season begins, in 30 minute portions a week.


The Funniest Couple in Showbiz
Angie Tribeca was created by the funniest couple in showbiz – Steve (The Office, The Big Short, Foxcatcher, The Way Way Back) and Nancy Carrell (The Office, The Goode Family, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) – and stars familiar sitcom faces: Rashida Jones (Boston Public, The Office, Parks and Recreation) as the titular character, Hayes MacArthur (Perfect Couples, Go On) as her new partner, Jere Burns (Justified, The Muppets, Burn Notice, Breaking Bad) as her boss, Deon Cole (Conan, Black-ish) as her colleague and in the pilot we also see Nancy Carrell, Lisa Kudrow (Friends, Web Therapy, The Comeback) and Alfred Molina (Matador, Show Me a Hero, Monday Mornings and Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark; yes, he’s been around a long time).

It’s clear where the Carrells got their inspiration from: the entire body of work of Leslie Nielsen. If you find Angie Tribeca hilarious and Nielsen doesn’t ring a bell, there’s a whole world of corny comedy out there for you to explore. Start by watching the 1980 movie Airplane! and its sequel. Binge the TV series Police Squad! and the Naked Gun trilogy, as well as Charlie Sheen’s Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux. The story is of no importance whatsoever and there’s not a single scene that makes sense, just like Tribeca. There’s one major difference, though, between the Nielsen/Sheen catalogue and the Carrell Show.

First of all, it’s not exactly new anymore. We’ve seen all of the goofiness been done before – and better. Sure, there might be a new audience out there, too. People who never had to sit through one or more Police Academy movies on birthday parties. People who might have seen bits of pieces of Hot Shots!, but didn’t quite know what it was commenting on, because they never saw the movies that were being parodied. And that’s precisely the problem with Angie Tribeca; it’s not really commenting on anything, other than the same old (eighties and nineties) things.


Dropping Like Flies
Police Squad! was a result of rebelling against all those overly serious cop shows at the time, but there aren’t a lot of them left in 2016. The CSIs are dropping like flies, there’s only one Law & Order spinoff left, Battle Creek didn’t make it past its first season and the popularity of Blue Bloods, for example, can be disputed. Why then create a show around a female detective? It feels very out-dated. Charlie Sheen went up against Rambo and other hugely successful action franchises, but the only one left standing is Sylvester Stallone himself and from the looks of it, has all but officially pronounced John Rambo deceased and has recently retired the character of Rocky Balboa in the movie Creed.

Playing in the Sandbox
The Carrells could have used their comedic chops for something a little more 21st century. There’s enough pop culture to rally against in hilarious ways. Superheroes (Heroes Reborn, The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), political and historical dramas (House of Cards, Downton Abbey, Wolf Hall, basically everything out of Denmark), dystopian futures for teenagers (The Hunger Games, Divergent, Shadowhunters), extremely long wide angle shots (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), transgenders (Transparant, I Am Cait) and so on. South Park, for instance, totally got its eye on the ball, while Angie Tribeca is playing in the sandbox, ignoring everything going on around it and rehashing old slapstick material. Is it funny? At times. Is it a reflection of the times we live in? Not at all. Should it be? I guess not, but whenever I get a strong feeling of ‘been there, done that’, I’m checking out.

Conan at Comic-Con

After travelling into the heart and soul of the island of rum, rhumba and pigeon competitions on rooftops, namely Cuba, Conan O’Brien takes his Team Coco out on the road again. This time to the even more dangerous grounds of the mother of nerdistic, pop culture fandom: San Diego Comic-Con, AKA SDCC.


Improv I
O’Brien promised there’d be more special trips, like the one to Cuba, and Comic-Con seems like the obvious choice. He’s a master of improvisation – drop him into a situation and he blooms – so what better opportunity than a venue full of people in storm trooper costumes, to make comedy on the spot?
From Wednesday the 8th through Saturday the 11th of July, Conan was taped at Comic-Con, and as promised, there were a lot of surprises, or as O’Brien tends to put it: they had a lot of ‘fun stuff planned’.

Like the actual way to Comic-Con. Whenever a road’s involved, getting from A to B, O’Brien delivers every time, but this year he’s outdone himself. He, Andy Richter and the Basic Cable Band headed out to San Diego in full Mad Max Fury Road fashion, including the ridiculous flame spewing guitar. Nerdpocalypse as we knew it. A movie parody bit in the best MTV Movie Awards tradition.

There were a lot of guests on the 4 shows, so many in fact, that most of them were only able to answer one question. It didn’t matter too much; just the fact that they were there in the first place was very cool. A lot of time was spent on silly sketches, though. The lightsaber fight between O’Brien and Seth Green, for example. Or the weather forecast of Narnia, Westeros and Middle Earth. Gollum stealing the One Ring from Elijah Wood. Chris Hardwick, who’d put a pair of socks in his underwear, for some unexplained reason.
The lowest point, but there probably wasn’t any way around it, was the product placement bit starring a well-known candy bar. O’Brien and Richter always try to make it funny, but it never really is. Product placement during a show, with the host(s) participating, will someday turn out to be the death of television.

There was both silly and hilarious stuff, too: the baby Alien that popped out of the belly of an astronaut – playing a saxophone. The hidden cameras inside George R.R. Martin’s house, to see how his writing is going. Conan’s own origin story, and of course, the world premiere of The Flaming C – the only superhero who wears oven mitts.
They also changed up the monologue, to fit in with the theme. Every punchline referred to something pop cultural, which was very thoughtful and well done.

Improv II
So where did O’Brien go? Who did he talk to? What did he do ‘on the floor’? Well, nothing. Despite the many stars, funny bits and clips, Conan at Comic-Con felt a lot like Talkshow Somewhere in the Vicinity of Comic-Con, Maybe Not. There was a lot of talk about famous people not being able to walk around at the event – not even in costume -, like it was some sort of danger zone. But shouldn’t that have been reason enough for O’Brien to definitely go and mingle with the storm troopers, Bat men and Gandalfs? It’s cool and all, Conan at Comic-Con, but it didn’t show anything of the actual Comic-Con. It didn’t sound like a safe nerd haven; more like a place of Walking Dead people.
Maybe that’s exactly what the organisation was going for, come to think of it. Still, next time – and Conan will be back in San Diego next year – I hope we’ll see a little more improvisation in the location from where they’re claiming to do a show.