Every time I see that Will Ferrell is booked on a show, I make an attempt watch it. Probably because I am a huge fan of his work in films like Anchorman and Blades of Glory, I just expect him to be a great guest. But like the fans of the glory years of SNL who tunes in week after week only to be let down most of the time, I find myself in the same boat when I tune in for Ferrell. I so want him to be great on talk shows, but he just isn’t.
Ferrell’s appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson for some kind of late-in-the-day promotion for Step Brothers is a case in point. As usual, the segment kicked off with a clip from the movie, in contrast to most shows displaying a clip near the end of the interview. After some amusing interplay over their respective wrist bracelets – Ferrell’s promoting global warming and Craig’s a gift from his son – the comedy advanced in fits and starts. Ferrell kept trying to ride the Ferguson tidal wave, but his attempts to connect seemed off the mark and scattershot most of the time. He summoned up his father in the audience. He let Craig feel his butt. But mostly, he somewhat timidly (for him) followed Craig’s lead, with both of them finally getting in harmony near the end with a wacky image of a Lord of the Dance extravaganza with Stairmasters on the stage in Las Vegas.
Was it entertaining? Pretty much so. But this gets only 3 Whispers because Ferrell came off as a hesitant second banana. There seems to be only two ways to shine in the Ferguson maelstrom: aggressively take charge and compel Craig’s respect (see our Archives for Kathy Griffin’s star turn on his show) or lay back, feed Craig opportunities and watch for the perfect opening to get in your own comic shot (ditto the Archives for Thandie Newton on The Late Late Show.) The only certain thing: your standard approach will fail, because this show never depends on old talk show traditions – it’s a pacesetter.
As for Ferrell himself, I’ll keep watching and praying.