Monday, September 9, 2013

'The Arsenio Hall Show' Returns: Drab, Disappointing and Dated

He's Back – But the Comeback Wasn't Beautiful (Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS Distribution)

I was a full-time, watch-TV-for-money television critic for more than 11 years. And in all that time, the most pure fun I had, hands down, was the privilege of hanging out backstage at The Arsenio Hall Show during my trips to LA in the '90s.

Arsenio was – and is – a hero of mine. When I was growing up there were virtually no dark faces that looked like me on the little glowing screen, and it seemed like so much fun in there that I dreamed of being a TV talk host someday. Hall achieved my fantasy, so of course I began writing about his latenight series as soon as the opportunity arose.

Subsequently, I made friends with the show's PR woman, who invited me to drop by the set any time I was in Los Angeles – and meant it. I can't begin to count how many times I visited the show, but I was always treated like a VIP guest and it was a straight-up party every time, even though the show was taped at four in the afternoon in order to make it onto the satellite for distribution.

I recall kicking it with Hall in his miniscule dressing room, engulfed by stacks of shoes and racks of suits for him to choose at his whim. I remember meeting Mike Tyson, who quietly slipped in a side door of the soundstage just to watch the taping and hang out. And I distinctly recall being in the audience the day musical guest Sir Mix-A-Lot performed his hit "Baby Got Back" in front of the largest fake booty in the history of television, and the gasps and whoops of the crowd when it was revealed.

So perhaps even more than most curious viewers, I was extremely geeked to witness Hall's return to latenight after he fell victim to the Leno-Letterman feud nearly 20 years ago. After his winning run on Celebrity Apprentice catapulted him back into public consciousness, the TV bigdomes started to think, "Hey...why not Arsenio again? He was incredibly cool!" Remember, this was the cat who had future President Bill Clinton playing sax with his musical Posse one night. (Some still claim that single appearance may have secured the White House for Clinton.) What was he going to do to top his own legend?

And I was extremely discouraged by what I saw.

At the midpoint of Monday night's (Sept. 9) nationally-syndicated premiere, Hall did a lackluster bit pretending to reveal the contents of "Arsenio's Time Capsule." And that's just what the program felt like, as if it had been buried all these years and unearthed now without having had an opportunity to grow or stay in step with the times.

The theme song was exactly the same as it was in the show's first run from 1989-1994. Hall never was a great interviewer, but it appeared that the modest conversational skills he possessed had eroded over time. I swear, even the furniture on the interview set looked eerily familiar.

I live-Tweeted the debut of Arsenio Hall Show 2.0 Monday night @bigglowingbox: Here's a blow-by-blow compilation of what I observed:

11:04 p.m. Some of my best memories as a TV critic were hanging out backstage at @ArsenioHall Show. Can't wait to see the second incarnation!

"Now, back from a very long weekend, here's...@ArsenioHall!" Same theme song, but "therapy" intro with @jayleno was priceless! 

"Leave it to the first black late-night host to take 19 years off work! And still expect my job to be waiting for me!" @ArsenioHall

Prepackaged comedy clips of @ArsenioHall in #storagewars, #DowntonAbbey, Food Network show and prison sendup did not work well.

Just as the @ArsenioHall monologue was getting embarrassingly long, hyah comes @SnoopDogg

@SnoopDogg – surprise No.1 on the new @ArsenioHall Show! But the opening monologue was not that funny. And the show sadly seems a bit dated.

If I was @ArsenioHall I would have worked hard to get a new theme song And why Chris Tucker as 1st guest? Can't think of anyone less funny, or worse interview.

Surprise No. 2: the massive "Arsenio Time Capsule." "No, this is not New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's lunch box." Wow. @ArsenioHall

Fifteen minutes into the @ArsenioHall Show debut, I'm thinking he needs to consider blowing up his writing staff. This material is stale.

Surprise No. 3: A walk-on by @PaulaAbdul on the @ArsenioHall Show. Butt did she really have to be introduced by a synthetic ass?  
 "So now that you're working again, I assume you'll be moving out of my pool house?" – @PaulaAbdul. @ArsenioHall as Kato Kaelin. 

Just caught a shot of my cuz, @MsShaunRobinson, coming out of commercial in the @ArsenioHall premiere.  

My Lord! After 19 years, are they still using the same FURNITURE on the interview set? What? @ArsenioHall  

Oh, cardinal interviewer's sin: Finally ask an intriguing question, then have to go to commercial. The opening night timing's a little rusty. @ArsenioHall

OK, Chris Tucker is the big @ArsenioHall opening night guest. Laughs so far in first interview segment: 0. @realctucker  

I swear, the furniture looks like it was placed in storage for two decades. You can see the lumps in the ottoman. @ArsenioHall  

I always thought Chris Tucker substituted volume and attitude for humor. He did nothing tonight to change my mind. @realctucker @ArsenioHall

No disrespect, but @ArsenioHall has been gone 19 years and planning this comeback for months – and @realctucker is the best guest he could land?

I expected so much more. @ArsenioHall set was my second home in 90s, and some of my best TV memories. But tonight's return just felt dated.

This could get better. The guests could come from the A-List, and the writing could improve. But for @ArsenioHall, it needs to happen fast.

@ArsenioHall to @SnoopDogg: "I recognize that cologne you're wearing, my friend." Snoop: "It's called 'contact'."

@SnoopDogg gives @ArsenioHall a pair of black logo house slippers. "When you come off the air, you're going to want to rest your feet."

Best part of @ArsenioHall return: opening clip of Hall lying on @jayleno couch. Other prepackaged clips lame, writing poor, interview weak.

@ArsenioHall made TV history. When I was a kid I dreamed of being a TV talk host, and he is an idol of mine. But this comeback was not good.

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