McNamara’s Picks: ‘Tonight Show,’ ‘Winter Olympics,’ ‘House of Cards’

Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno
As of Monday night, Jimmy Fallon will be sitting on the other side of the “Tonight Show” desk.
(Chris Haston / NBC)

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Patience pays off in the end for Jimmy Fallon who takes over for Jay Leno starting Monday night. Having saved the Emmys after their disastrous “let’s get the reality hosts to run the show” decision and emerged unscathed from that ugly business between Leno and Conan O’Brien, Fallon reminds performers everywhere that waiting in the wings is not always a bad strategy. Also understanding social media helps a lot too.

Although Fallon often seems in danger of out-nice-ing even Ellen DeGeneres, he did move the show back to New York and add “starring.” Still, one wonders how his self-effacing style will play at an earlier hour to a bigger audience night after night. Can he maintain that humble stance and still run a franchise as powerful as “The Tonight Show”? Can he age down the demo without infuriating its devoted base? NBC, weeknights, 11:30 p.m.

“The Winter Olympics.” After all the hand-wringing and Putin bashing that led up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Games themselves have been just as uneventfully eventful as the Olympics usually are. The “Today” team, on hand in the a.m., has this event down so well they could do it in their sleep. Mary Carillo gamely takes viewers up close and personal to Russian culture and, with the exception of Bob Costas stepping aside on day five due to an eye infection, the evenings have been devoted to the kind of drama viewers like to see: the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, etc. NBC, mornings and evenings until Feb. 24.

PHOTOS: Winter Olympics in film


“House of Cards.” Season two of the Netflix flagship drops on Valentine’s Day (binge-watching being the new sex) and picks ups almost precisely where season one left off -- with power couple Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) out for a couples run in the dark while their various plots bubble and boil behind them. Frank, of course, is the Southern Democratic House whip who has done everything short of genocide to pay back a presidential administration he feels has disrespected him by taking it over. Step one, become vice president. Check. And this is where we meet him when season two opens, days away from confirmation, finding a replacement he thinks will play ball with him (in this case a feisty veteran played by Molly Parker) and making certain that his is the only voice the president trusts. Oh, and cleaning up the few loose ends he left in season one.

Claire, meanwhile, enters several scenarios as victim but with a few knowing twists of the blade, throws her opponent to the floor. While Frank’s quest is simply for naked power, Claire’s motivations are murkier and more multitextured as is her relationship with her husband. Like season one, which, after a big brash opener dwindled down to a fairly predictable if still enjoyable Beltway drama, this 12-episode story line is driven by performance more than plot. Spacey is just having such a good time playing with the camera and everyone around him that you continually want to hand him a towel and a beer but it’s Wright’s character and performance that remains the fascinating center of the show. What sort of person is Claire Underwood remains just about the only question to which we don’t pretty much know the answer. Fortunately, it’s a very good question. Netflix, any time starting Friday.

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