The first episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has now aired in the US.
Colbert’s first guest was George Clooney, followed by Jeb Bush. Naturally there were Donald Trump jokes, a cameo by Jon Stewart and even a nod to Jimmy Fallon.
So what did reviewers make of the real Colbert, stepping out from behind his persona on The Colbert Report?
Facing almost impossibly high expectations, Stephen Colbert seemingly raced through a checklist of agenda-setting moments in his mostly terrific “The Late Show” debut. Cameo by Jon Stewart. Check. Work in CBS CEO Leslie Moonves. Check. Earnestly pay tribute to David Letterman. Check. And perhaps most pleasantly, throw in a nod to late-night rival Jimmy Fallon, proving this won’t be a bitter Letterman-Jay Leno-type rivalry. If the goal was establish the CBS show as fun-loving (a silly bit with George Clooney) yet potentially topical (an interview with Jeb Bush), as another Bush family member might say, “Mission accomplished.”
Hollywood Reporter said:
I liked the set, the desk, the knowing crowd and mostly Batiste. But you can bet that there will be so much that’s different in the coming weeks — the implementation of skits, recurring bits, special elements that Colbert feels comfortable with (or uncomfortable, as the case may be). Change will come because it always comes, no matter what you think of the first night. Hell, I’d vote right now to immediately change the unfortunate and dubious Twitter hashtag — #LSSC — to the far better and simpler #LateShow. Can that happen? Beyond minor first-night quibbles, I have little doubt that Colbert will be absolutely essential viewing on a nightly basis and his show will be a success no matter what way he eventually settles in the chair. The key for him is to make it original, not imitative of what we’ve seen from the past or too safe and comfy — and I think he’s only just beginning on that original route.
THE GUARDIAN said:
Tonight’s segment felt a lot like what I saw during previews. He’s a tamer version of the character he played on the Colbert Report, but he still offers something we desperately need in late night: smart commentary. He pushed Jeb. He went after Trump. He gave George plenty of guff. I can tell this show is not going to be a superficial chat show, and it’s not going to be a celebrity fawn-fest either. What it needs, though, is to figure out where its fun moments are. We need more of his playful side, and we could definitely use more Jon Batiste. But hey, it’s just the first night. And there’s always tomorrow. For now though, we’re signing off from New York City. Thanks for keeping us company.
Indeed, the way he’ll fit into the talk-show ecosystem as it exists in 2015 remains to be seen. Colbert’s two terrific interviews felt both too substantial and too meta to really thrive on a YouTube ecosystem that has recently rewarded hosts who’ve enlisted celebrities for either party tricks or just plain tricks. The show will find its groove very soon, but it may take a bit longer to figure out exactly what role Colbert will play: Affable throwback act, or world conqueror? His fans, though, have reason to hope. There’s room for real subversion in the late-night talk show that hews to the traditional, and not just in new ways to get sponsor messages in. Colbert, in his show’s first moments, mentioned his pride in his mother: A pennant she got for attending Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech adorns the studio. “Sadly, civil rights only won the pennant that year,” Colbert said. “Racism won the World Series.” It’s a sharper, franker, and better-developed joke than anyone other than a Colbert fan might have expected from network late night. And best of all, it was delivered by Colbert as himself.
Well, we were hoping for weird, and that was certainly weird. It was also just kind of a longer, weirder, and more sincere version of The Colbert Report, which is just fine with us. It’s actually even more than fine, since we miss The Colbert Report more than we could even tell you. This show might be even better than The Colbert Report. Yeah, not kidding. This first show was filled to the brim with moments that made us laugh, cry, want Oreos, and nearly die of laughter, except minus the crying part.
For a premiere, this Late Show was exceedingly polished yet loose-limbed. As Colbert joked, he did have nine months to cook this one up. But in the choices he’s made, of what to keep from the Colbert Report and how much of himself to reveal to his new network audience, it seems likely that this was the first of many very good nights.
You can catch the episode tonight at 11:30pm on ELEVEN.