Remember when Conan O'Brien was racking up support on Twitter and Facebook with his "I'm With Coco" slogan? So does Troy Patterson, though it's been five long years since scores of fans got behind the "rallying cry" and helped the TV host land a gig at TBS. Today, O'Brien has faded from the spotlight and his quirkiness, his "throwaway experimental spirit, the earnest aw-shucks self-deprecation" seems to have vanished, too, Patterson writes at Slate. Each night on Conan, O'Brien delivers "a topical monologue indistinguishable from anyone else's, as if he were an unusually talented cog in a generic machine." He greets a few A-list guests, plus some relatively unknown ones, and nods dutifully like "a streamlined knockoff of his old, weird self," Patterson writes. "The atmosphere is dutiful, and the air leaves the room."
Then there are the jokes and skits—"the soul of late-night comedy," Patterson writes. While rivals Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel bring down the house, O'Brien's gags "defy explanation and are dead on arrival," Patterson says. "The joker himself has become the whole joke." For a recent show, O'Brien was filmed in a locked "escape room," in which he needed to solve puzzles in order to get out. "What laughs there were issued from O'Brien's exaggerated frustration with his predicament" which "serves as a tidy metaphor for the state of Conan now," Patterson says. "He amuses the faithful with his sheer exasperation at being trapped in stale quarters." Click for his full column. (Read more Conan O'Brien stories.)