Memo to Arsenio: The 90s Were Great, But They’re Over

The Arsenio Hall Show's debut was fine but traded on too much nostalgia. Imagine what he could do if he focused on the present

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D Dipasupil / Getty Images for Extra

Arsenio Hall visits 'Extra' in Times Square on Sept. 5, 2013 in New York City

Watching last night’s first installment of The Arsenio Hall Show was a bit like having a very fun uncle ramble on about his very fun youth.  The show seemed stuck in a haze of nostalgia, with Hall’s heyday, the 1990s, dominating much of the proceedings.  He made jokes about AOL CD-Roms, Wesley Snipes, and hosted a roster of slightly historical guests including Paula Abdul and Chris Tucker. Snoop Dogg gave a fabulous rendition of “Snoop Doggy Dog” — and everybody traveled back in time, which was fun, but also a problem.

Sure, some celebration of Hall’s pop-cultural touchstones is needed, but to have a new late-night show so dominated by the past seems a risky strategy for a man trying to reinstate himself in the modern show business landscape.

More than any other talk show host before or since, Hall in his prime was obsessed with staying at the very center of the zeitgeist. In his new incarnation, however,  he comes across very differently, interviewing old guests with nothing major to report, sometimes unsuccessfully trying his hand at Kimmel-like video-skits, and never quite settling into his former cool confidence.

Since The Arsenio Hall Show went off the air 19 years ago, the late-night talk show circuit has become a far busier place. Genial Leno and acerbic Letterman must do battle with the arcane Conan O’Brien, frat-boy Jimmy Kimmel, class clown Jimmy Fallon and Scottish-born Craig Ferguson.  Even the dour Carson Daly is off doing pre-taped segments (which usually involve an insane amount of driving) that air at two in the morning. And that is just primetime network TV!  In such a crowded field, is there room for Arsenio Hall?

If he can adapt, then yes, there is.  Hall has an easy-going delivery that beautifully counterpoints his hard-charging wit.  And he’s far more topically daring, still, than anyone else on late night. (Would any other late-night host make that Instagram/cocaine joke?) All he needs to do is decide whether or not he wants to celebrate the now. He used to do that beautifully, just by being himself.

Rebecca Harrington is the author of campus comedy Penelope

MORE: Woof! Woof! Arsenio Hall Returning to Late-Night Television

16 comments
chokingkojak
chokingkojak

I was in my senior year of high school when The Arsenio Hall show was hitting its stride the first go around.    

This was like back when The Simpsons was just a skit on the Tracy Ullman show, lol.

GarySTager
GarySTager

TAKE THE SHOW OFF THE AIR. THE PREJUDICE piece of............

GarySTager
GarySTager

What are you white people stupid. You fellow white people cannot tell how prejudice he is?.If a white man ever made remarks like he does about white is beautiful and he knocks the black man down all the time, the tv show would be shut down

sexylady124
sexylady124

Sometimes bringing back something old is a good thing..Not everybody want to hear about  Miley twerking or listen to some lame rock band who plays 80's music(yeah that's what it is now)Nothing new about any of that crap..I'm glad Arsenio is back ..He's unique in his own way..Look out Haters!!!

BobWilson1
BobWilson1

Who cares about Chris Tucker and Paula Abdul anymore? Snoop isn't even taken seriously as a rapper anymore.

JordanMilner
JordanMilner

Oh come on Rebecca...that was the first show after a 19 year hiatus.  All he did was link back from his last show to the present.  It was a great way to start the new era of his show.  You are just grasping at straws Rebecca Harrington and it makes you sound bitter and petty.   Great job Arsenio!!  Ignore this bitter B Rebecca.  It's great to have you back and your first show was fantastic. 

Chynaman
Chynaman

In his new incarnation, however,  he comes across very differently, interviewing old guests with nothing major to report, sometimes unsuccessfully trying his hand at Kimmel-like video-skits, and never quite settling into his former cool confidence

WHAT!? How can someone write this after just one show?? The writer of this article makes it sound as if he has done a month of shows featuring trips down memory lane. It was his first show! Its pretty stupid to think in his first show back after nearly 20 years he wouldnt be a bit nostalgic. It was a very good FIRST SHOW. Silly article.

calvin.williams
calvin.williams

I think Arsenio did the right thing for his first show back. It would've been a bad call not to acknowledge his past show and in turn give a nod to all the fans and friends that supported him all those years ago. I'm pretty sure it's not going to be an everyday occurrence. That said, I loved the show, it was a great return, and it's only gonna get better from here. 

jennkurz
jennkurz

Give the guy a break it was the first show. Instead of ignoring or running away from the fact that hes been off the air for 19 years he embraced it and did a nostalgia show to remind everyone who watched in the 90s why his show was different then. There have been TONS of talks shows come and gone and none have ever been as cool as the Arsenio Hall show. The energy and laid back atmoshphere always played more like hanging out with your friends than a talk show Q & A. Many shows have tried to emmulate it but they all come up short. I think moving forward he will be more contemporary and hopefully will be able to garner the  same young audience that he had in the 90s. Except that now its the kids of his previous audience. Hes still the coolest 57 year old guy ever.

BenIncaHutz
BenIncaHutz

I watched for about 2 minutes and then turned it off. It was just too painful to watch. It was like slow motion car accident. Very slow motion. Very very very very slow motion. 

The 90s are long gone .  .  . hopefully someone can tell Arsenio that. Why was he famous in the first place?

nettie0427
nettie0427

I loved Arsenio's show last night and believe that he's  back to stay for a long while!  It was fun  to see the cool guests that he would normally have, such as Snoop, Chris Tucker, Paula Abdul.  It was his first night back after 19 years and I loved every minute of it.  The relaxed and fun energy was there and loved how he and Chris had some good ol' fun dancing and being plain old silly like you would when hanging out with your buddies.  His time capsule skit was hilarious, especially when he pulled out the 30-day free AOL CD.  That just brought me back to that time and place in my own life and had me reminiscing of when I used to watch his show every night just so I could end my day in laughter and feeling good because that's what Arsenio does.  His infectious smile, humor and fun energy and personality transcends from his show into your living room and makes you remember that life is good and that we need to remember to just relax, unstress ourselves, not take life "too" seriously sometimes and just chill out a little bit and laugh and dance thru life...with Arsenio!  Woof! Woof! Woof!  Glad you're back Arsenio!!  I'll be seeing ya tonight and each weeknight once again!  Blessings to him and his son, as well.  I'm sure he's a great dad.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@GarySTager The word is racist everyone is prejudice about one thing or another , get it right.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@BobWilson1 Snoop is not a  serious rapper but he would make a great President I would vote for him. Snoop for President it would keep the democrats happy, blacks  would have a black president again that the whites put in office and the up tight GOP set may learn to chill and light up in congress and get along on both sides of the Isle. he is without adoubt the to run . he is married a good dad, funny and likable, a very intelligent street wise man who will most likely be better at foreign affairs the any President in the last 30 years. SNOOP FOR PRES.

sexylady124
sexylady124

@calvin.williams I agree..He's being true to himself..I'm glad he didn't come back trying to be something that he's not..Why mess up a good thing?Leno is leaving soon so with Arsenio back this is going to be quite interesting and fun to see who will be the King of Late Night...

Openminded1
Openminded1

@nettie0427 Please like he is going to read your post, silly girl. Arsenio is a funny intelligent man with charisma , not the second coming, hope it does work out for him, but get a grip.