Like most people, when we heard that Jimmy Fallon was taking over Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show, we weren’t thrilled. Fallon was, after all, the SNL cast member most likely (well, after the lamentable Horatio Sanz) to totally blow a sketch by laughing at his own jokes. But now that the show’s had about nine months to find its feet, we’ve finally admitted something to ourselves: We actually enjoy it.
What makes Late Night with Jimmy Fallon awesome isn’t the monologues or the host’s interviewing skills. Those are average at best. No, it’s Fallon’s weird, ambitious, and often delightfully obscure pop-culture ideas and fixations that make it uniquely fascinating. Just last night, for instance, Fallon reunited legendary punk band Jawbox for a one-off performance, the significance of which maybe 5 percent of his audience could have grasped. (Watch the video here.) After the jump, we collect our five favorite Late Night with Jimmy Fallon moments in an attempt to defend one of TV’s most underrated personalities.
1. The Return of Zach Morris Fallon became a hero to all children of the early ’90s by attempting to reunite the cast of Saved by the Bell. And while that hasn’t totally panned out yet, the host did arrange just about the best stunt ever this summer, when he invited Mark-Paul Gosselaar on the show. The former teen idol must have a fantastic sense of humor because he came on the show in full Zach Morris character, complete with colossal, ancient cell phone and dressed in authentic California surfwear. He even accompanied the Roots on a rendition of the Zack Attack classic “Friends Forever.” Gosselaar never broke character and, perhaps most curious of all, didn’t appear to have aged a day in the past 20 years.
2. Fallon Covers Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme Song, as Neil Young One of the best things about Fallon is his capacity for utterly enjoyable randomness. We aren’t sure what inspired him to pay tribute to yet another classic ’90s sitcom by performing a rendition of its theme song in character as the legendary Neil Young… and we can’t put our finger on why the results were so funny. But Fallon’s Young impression was surprisingly solid and, whatever its motivation, the skit killed.
3. Fallon Interviews Diggnation’s Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht This is more a symbolic choice than anything. By inviting the hosts of the ridiculously popular web series Diggnation on his show, Fallon demonstrates his enthusiasm for and support of online culture. More than any other late-night host, he has completely embraced viral video and Internet memes, and for that we Buzzfeed and Urlesque addicts love him.
4. The Roots “Slow Jam the News” The first sign that Fallon’s show was going to be all right, after all, was the announcement that the Roots would be his house band. Over the past several months, they’ve proven to be by far the best late-night band of all time, bringing musical guests’ performances to the next level and serving as a hilarious foil for the host. And it all started on Fallon’s premiere episode, when he and the band introduced their “Slow Jam the News” segment. Several months later, even Diddy was getting in on the act.
5. Fallon Plays Beer Pong with Betty White In another instance of Fallon bringing together completely disparate elements of pop culture, he enticed beloved Golden Girl Betty White to join him for a friendly game of beer pong. After being defeated by Ivanka Trump, Anna Kournikova and Serena Williams, Fallon finally (narrowly) won a match. But White was a fantastic sport from beginning to end. It was, in fact, a pleasure to watch her chug.