Sure ABC could have just aired a rerun, what with Jimmy Kimmel taking the night off from his late-night show to co-host the big, partly successful live Norman Lear tribute earlier on Wednesday. Instead, though, viewers got a return visit from recent Jimmy Kimmel Live! guest, Emmy winner, and all-around media mogul, Lena Waithe, who stepped in to take over Kimmel’s gig for the night. Stacking the show with hand-picked guests like Lala Milan (star of the Waithe-produced BET series Boomerang), and rapper Chika (who destroyed with her searingly topical “Rachey v. Alabama”). Oh, and John Travolta was there, alongside daughter and The Poison Rose costar Ella Bleu, in what seemed more like a leftover Kimmel booking, really.
But Waithe, formidable show biz veteran that she is at this point, was still new at the whole hosting thing. Luckily, she came prepared with a little help, in the form of an Oscar winner and a, let’s call it “fresh,” young writers’ room. With Kimmel’s trusty sidekick/security guard Guillermo (Rodriguez) sending out the call thanks to a handy emergency “Berry button,” Waithe was buoyed by an appearance from pal (and Boomerang co-producer) Halle Berry (first seen in superhero silhouette), who responded to Waithe’s plea for “some of that Halle Berry juice” with an Oscar-style inspirational speech—and a serious kiss for luck. Still, Berry was only in house for a moment (she did pop back later to high-five Waithe after a Trump joke that needed some affirmation), so Waithe also called upon a roomful of fresh-faced young writing talent. Like, really fresh-faced. Genuinely adorable-faced. (They were kids.)
Spitballing some monologue ideas (the kids screamed in unified disgust at a picture of Trump) and sketches, the kids were enthusiastic, if a little unfocused, to be honest. At any rate, they didn’t propose any goof-around party games, which put them one-up on Jimmy Fallon’s crew. In the end, Waithe and her neophyte staff settled on a “Friends meets Wizard Of Oz meets Cannibal Holocaust” sort of premise that, frankly, Waithe realized needed some work. Thankfully, she retained the services of “model minority” Caleb, whose stellar riddle work (that seagull/baygull stuff is gold) was on-point. Should Waithe get her own actual late-night show (not that she has the time), she could do worse than Caleb.