James Corden looks like the kind of guy you could punch and he’d still smile.
At least that’s the impression we got from the first week of his “Late Late Show” offerings.
Nervous in interviews (but name a late-night talk show host who wasn’t, initially), he scored best in comic bits that obviously had been produced to within an inch of their lives.
An extensive sketch about the way he got the gig (complete with Willy Wonka chocolates and a golden ticket), let plenty of his celebrity friends check in and have a laugh at his expense. The best part of it, though, was Jay Leno turning up as a “Whiplash”-like teacher trying to impart the finer points of hosting. Leno appeared to have settled into his new identity; Corden was just ripe for the picking.
Later Corden and Tom Hanks recreated bits from the latter’s film career. They were fun to watch, but you could see the Jimmy Fallon wheels turning. Corden isn’t as facile as Fallon, but he also isn’t as fawning.
Instead of bringing guests out one at a time, he bunched them (a good move) but didn’t have enough experience to pull both into all conversations. Hanks, for example, had to sit by while Corden and Mila Kunis talked about their babies and the effects they have on their sex lives. Hanks tried to jump in, but it just looked like he was trying to help out, not engage.
On Tuesday night, Patricia Arquette and Chris Pine dished the Oscars, which worked because both were there. They got a little skit action, too, (Jimmy really left an impression) but the soap opera bit they offered just showed they weren’t up to the daytime drama challenge. (Breaking glass? Uh, right.)
What Corden did show was an awful lot of charm. He made an Andy Richter joke and it wasn’t far off – he’s like the sidekick who suddenly got the head job and, frankly, doesn’t know what to do with it.
Because he managed to get great guests, Corden got ratings. (Poor Seth Meyers was left jawing with Fred Armison for the umpteenth time.) But he does need to figure out how he’s going to work his Graham Norton approach into a city populated by folks used to solo spotlights.
The new “Late Late Show” looks expensive – like it’s filling the gap when “The Tonight Show” moved to New York. It could be a flashier complement to Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show.” But it’s too early to handicap those horses.
Now, Corden is in a race by himself. He got out of the gate. He just needs to pace himself.