Jimmy Fallon opened Thursday night’s “Tonight Show” with a bit in which he performed the Beach Boys’ hit “Barbara Ann” with five wax likenesses of himself built to display in Madame Tussaud’s wax museums around the United States.
Looked at one way, it appears to be yet another goofy bit neatly packaged and ready to be shared and retweeted via social media, like much of the modern “Tonight Show.”
But look again. Is it possible that this bit is really Fallon’s cry for help?
By all appearances, Fallon seems to be a nice, well adjusted guy. He’s a husband and father. He gives the impression of being genuinely interested in his guests and happy to let them take the spotlight when they come on his show. He has reinvigorated “The Tonight Show” franchise to appeal to a younger audience that doesn’t necessarily tune in to NBC every night at 11:35 p.m.
The clip starts innocently enough. It’s a close-up of Fallon’s cellphone ringing. His ring tone is “Barbara Ann.” It turns out to be his mother. Is that the song it plays when everyone calls or just his mother? We don’t know, but within the confines of this sketch, the song is inextricably linked to his mother.
He gushes to his mother about the wax likenesses of himself that have just been delivered to his office. Why were they sent here and not directly to the Madam Tussauds museums in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando and Washington, D.C.? Again, we don’t know, but it seems as if Fallon wanted to inspect them first. Which he does, while on the phone.
But then Steve Higgins interrupts to tell him the show starts in five minutes. Watch, did you see Fallon flinch? He’s not entirely comfortable with himself. And then we begin to wonder, if “The Tonight Show” tapes every night at about the same time, why would Fallon’s mother chose to call him five minutes before he has to go out and entertain? Is she still seeking to exert her authority?
As Fallon begins to collect himself for the task of being effortlessly charming and entertaining for the next hour, he’s brought into a performance of “Barbara Ann” with the wax figures. They are singing his mother’s song, and they want Jimmy to join them.
He does. Like a good boy, he does what has been asked of him, joining those wax figures in a song and dance performance of the Beach Boys tune.
But then Questlove sticks his head into the dressing room and we get the key shot. There’s Jimmy singing and dancing -- alone. That’s right, there are no wax figures visible in the dressing room. Assuming what Questlove is seeing is reality, then there were never any wax figures in the dressing room, so the phone call discussing the wax figures never happened. The entire scene up to this moment has been taking place within Fallon’s mind.
And that’s when it begins to turn. After a crescendo, in which Fallon enters an animated wonderland populated by bright colors and his own shining face, the wax figures begin to turn on him. Their lighthearted fun begins to feel oppressive. They close in on Fallon, always smiling, still singing, crushing him with the pressure to entertain and be the man they are wax imitations of.
And then Fallon awakes. He’s in bed. Alone. No wife. Just the five wax figures of himself, lined up next to him in bed. The whole thing has been a dream within a nightmare.
Is this how Fallon sees “The Tonight Show”? Is he the wax figure, carted out to sing and dance for our amusement each night, whether he wants it or not? Is this man slowly being coated in a cold, immobile shell of uncaring, unfeeling, unloving wax?
Enjoy the next installment of “The Tonight Show’s” lip-sync battle or his next Neil Young impression. But just remember, possibly somewhere in there, is a man trapped in a talk show host, performing for his mother and crying out to be set free.
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