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The Tonight Show's 5th anniversary roleplays Larry Sanders by pretending everyone hates Jimmy Fallon

Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon
Screenshot: The Tonight Show

Monday marked Jimmy Fallon’s fifth anniversary of helming The Tonight Show as the former Saturday Night Live star’s personal party boat of giggle fits, musical parodies, and Nickelodeon games. Credit where it’s due, however, as the anniversary show ambitiously took the form of a lovingly uncomfortable simulacrum of The Larry Sanders Show, the late Garry Shandling’s hilariously painful deconstruction of the late-night talk show model. Fallon’s been effusive about his love for Shandling’s inimitably self-referential, ego-puncturing comedy series, and signaled the episode’s intentions by walking out for his monologue past a framed picture of Shandling, before sparring with sidekick Steve Higgins, who wheedles permission to hawk his long out-of-print barbeque cookbook in imitation of Sanders’ peerlessly self-promoting Hank Kingsley. (No Jeffrey Tambor cameo was forthcoming, though, thanks to the actor’s real-life impression of Kingsley’s workplace inappropriateness.)

From there, the show aped The Larry Sanders Show’s shifting focus between the on-camera talk show chipperness of Fallon’s interviews (with Tina Fey and requisite animal expert Robert Irwin), and the backstage dissatisfaction that has infested the show’s 30 Rock home like the massive cockroaches left over from Irwin’s previous appearance. Fey snarls, “You know what you did” during her pre-interview hug, leaving the baffled Fallon to grin his way through their seemingly chummy chat about the recently concluded Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Amy Poehler’s upcoming directorial debut, Wine Country. (“Trump got elected because of you,” Fey accuses under her breath on her way out.) Fallon’s typically watery monologue bombs. Everyone on set agrees that Fallon is looking puffy, leading his producers to plan to take the ramen noodles out of his dressing room. A hot mic catches the annoyed Fallon berating the 15-year-old Irwin backstage, leaving the sweaty Fallon to win back his appalled audience. Even the band, country rockers Florida Georgia Line, are a problem, their grumpy manager demanding that Fallon allow the duo to get some coveted couch time.

Meanwhile, Ben Stiller wanders belligerently around the hallways in a bedraggled panda suit, pissed that his surprise appearance was ruined, Fallon’s contemptuous writers sabotage the monolingual Fallon’s Spanish-language Telemundo promo, and Robert DeNiro’s green screen bit is abandoned when DeNiro can’t deal with all the cockroaches. Not even executive producer Lorne Michaels can pretend to be impressed, departing with a withering, “Well, the good news is, there’s another one tomorrow.” And if Jimmy Fallon isn’t able to access Shandling’s deep well of show business self-loathing (the bear-suited Stiller mocks Fallon’s acting, sneering, “Whatever, Taxi”), it’s at least a lovingly reverent approximation of a world where everyone finds Jimmy Fallon sort of insufferable.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.