‘Late Late Show With James Corden’ Premiere Review: Impressive First Outing Will Make You Smile

CBS’s new late-night host rejiggers the set and typical run of show to fit his unique talents

James Corden made his debut tonight as the new host of CBS’s “Late Late Show.” And as debuts go, his was very good. Following in the feel-good footsteps of Jimmy Fallon, Corden promised to try to put a smile on viewers’ faces as they went to sleep. He made good on this promise during his first hour hosting the show.

The setup looks like a standard late-night talk show, but there are some small but key differences: The audience is in closer proximity to Corden when he enters the stage and the show’s band, led by Reggie Watts. Another subtle change, though Corden has a desk, he sat with his guests next to the couch when they were brought on-stage. Another nice touch was bringing both Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks out at the same time and then they both chatted with Corden for the run of show. Oh, and there’s a bar on the set, sponsored by Bud Light. As Corden said, “What can go wrong with that?”

But, let me backtrack for a moment. Corden got onstage and immediately introduced himself to the studio audience and viewers at home. Corden knows there are many who didn’t get to see his Tony-winning performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” or watch the Hulu series “The Wrong Mans” or the Brit comedy “Gavin and Stacey.” So, he and his team — executive producers Ben Winston and Rob Crabbe — crafted a really funny Willy Wonka-inspired filmed bit about how Corden got the job as the show’s new host, with Les Moonves, President and CEO of the CBS Corporation, in the golden ticket-bestowing Wonka role. After Corden found said ticket, he’s put through a rigorous host-training process by none other than Jay Leno, Allison Janney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shia LeBoeuf and Her Showbiz Holiness Meryl Streep. The odd – and sort of sad — button to the bit as Corden exited training with more confidence and skills was Jay Leno saying to camera, “In three months, this show will be mine.” Don’t be so sure, Jay…

After a casual chat segment between Corden, Kunis and Hanks that noticeably did not include any promotion for upcoming films or TV shows, Corden and Hanks did a retrospective of Hanks’ film career in front a green screen, changing costume pieces and wigs to great comic effect, with Hanks rattling off many of his trademark film quotes. The bit ended with the two singing “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” from “Toy Story.” And while the title applies to Hanks and American moviegoers, TV viewers – and the internet – clearly have a new friend in Corden, as this viral-friendly clip will prove.

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James Corden chats with his first guests, Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis, on “The Late Late Show.” (Monty Brinton/CBS)

Corden’s closing song, “The Late Late Show With Me,” was sweet, again reaffirming that he’s here to make us smile and feel good at the end of whatever kind of day we’ve had. The humor and musicality of Corden’s show are similar in spirit, if not execution, to Fallon. It’ll be interesting to see how the show evolves over the next few months. This much is for certain: Corden is a talent worth watching for his sheer likability, musical and comedy talent, and genuine love of culture, pop and otherwise. He’s bending the late-night comedy show formula to fit his skill set, which given this first outing, is impressive.

“The Late Late Show With James Corden” airs weeknights at 12:30 a.m. on CBS.