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TV Picks: 'Bravest Warriors,' 'Gritty City,' 'The Tonight Show''

February 14, 2014|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

Certainly, the adults here, teachers and parents both, have a sense of urgency and mission; New Orleans is a dangerous place, most years in the running for the nation's murder capital, and the hope for new generations of city youth is to redeem them with music -- the satisfaction it brings, and the discipline it demands -- which is a long city tradition in itself. But what is most affecting is what the camera catches -- the gleam of brass, a toddler drumming with fair authority on a sidewalk, figures in a field at twilight rehearsing, pages of music blowing in the wind, faces in thought, and not in thought. It shows you the town; it lets you listen to the music without getting in the way. (There are times when no one speaks, for the network equivalent of eternity.)

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The story is told not in facts and figures, which say little about how people are, but in observed activity and snatched talk: Child 1: "I can march for 16 hours, my brother. How long can you march?" Child 2: "Twenty-nine thousand hours." Child 1: "That's preposterous." Or a woman, crying as a parade passes by, "Brian! Come to class!" Or the voice of an 11-year-old, recording a video diary: "I got to sit in the cold weather waiting on a bus. Can't do nothing but sit on a horn case.... There's a lady running, a neighborhood lady. Some modern-day children getting on a streetcar... These are mansions on St. Charles. Look at these houses."

Wynton Marsalis (a CBS News cultural correspondent, I did not know) has been tacked on at the beginning and end and in the middle as a kind of host, narrative wrangler and human seal of approval that, practically speaking, the film might need, but artistically speaking, it can get along very well without. (Note: "The Whole Gritty City" airs at 9, an hour earlier than is customary for "48 Hours.")

"The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" (NBC, late weeknights beginning Monday). Jimmy Fallon's decampment from an early antemeridian to a late postmeridian start time will have no effect on the way I watch his show, which is never as it's broadcast and rarely from start to finish. (Which does not constitute a criticism.) I imagine this may be true of a lot of his fans, who are already living some version of television in which television doesn't exist. The question is, will the time change and the "Tonight Show" banner alter the presentation, the content, the attitude?

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David Letterman managed the shift without sacrificing his healthy outsider status -- it helped, after all, that Jay Leno consistently beat him in the ratings -- but was also smart to make the endlessly comical city of New York his costar. Conan O'Brien, meaning no disrespect, couldn't make "The Tonight Show" work for him; for all his intelligence and experience and self-professed colorful oddity, he couldn't expand into its perceived, asserted bigness, assertively big set notwithstanding. (He is much more at home, and doing well, seemingly, at TBS, where he can be himself without having to convince anyone that that's a good thing.) If he had taken over "The Tonight Show" after five years in late-late night, instead of 16, that might have worked -- though it never could have happened.

Fallon, on the other hand, has momentum. He has myriad skills and tricks in his bag no other late-night host can lay claim to, and a youthfulness -- almost a youth -- that suggests many productive years ahead; and "Late Night," in his tenure, was already the most ambitiously produced show in post-prime-time. It made Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" look lazy and uncommitted.

Some find Fallon's exuberance trying, which might be one reason to watch him in bite sizes, and he is not the best interviewer among his peers. But even when it turns most obviously to selling some guest's product, the show feels genuine -- if only in that the selling is dutifully got through to get back to the fun -- and, in fact as well as in feel, inclusive.

I can't think of another show on the air, at any time, so regularly and reliably full of life and joy. Hopefully no one will try to fix this not-broken thing.

Plus: The Roots.
Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd


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