“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” shines despite early stumbles

Early promos for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” ranged from painfully bad to simply uncomfortable. The host, coming off of a nine-year stint playing the most egotistical guy on TV on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” struggled being comfortable as himself on camera. Tightly written lines were delivered with an unnecessary push of bravado. The sense of self that is so necessary to anchor a late-night show was missing entirely.

Luckily at some point between those promos and Tuesday’s premiere, Colbert found his groove. In the premiere, he was effortlessly funny, relaxed and charming. There were only a couple of moments (mostly during a minefield of an interview with GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush) where he slipped back into his old persona; with time, those minor slips in inflection should be ironed out of his system.

For fans of “The Colbert Report,” though, Colbert still includes a few of the old classics: The typical chanting of “Stephen” is a welcome carry-over. Other, newer additions, including a cursed amulet that forces him to discuss the show’s sponsors, feel like they hail from the old Colbert era, while still fitting in with the new show’s vibe.

The show does maintain some odd stylistic choices; the music feels old-fashioned, and, while the opening credits are gorgeous, the cards used going into and out of commercial breaks look cheap. Visually, it sometimes feels as though the show has one foot stuck in the past.

Still, for an episode with so much riding on it, “Late Show’s” premiere felt breezy and well-executed. George Clooney’s fake movie “Decision Strike” was a particularly nice addition, and by pulling in a high-profile presidential candidate like Bush this early on, Colbert proved that he has the pull and the name-recognition to make CBS’ staple great. Even though “The Colbert Report” will be greatly missed, “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” has the drive and the potential to live up to Colbert’s former work.

Show: “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
Rating: ★★★★½
Original Air Date: Sept. 8, 2015
Time Slot: 11:35 p.m. on CBS