The long-awaited return of Conan O’Brien has come, allowing us all to discover he’s pretty much the same dude he’s always been. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is hard to tell.

“Conan”

Weeknights at 11 p.m.
TBS

The premiere episode of “Conan” on TBS, which aired last Monday, focused strongly on his boot from NBC. In fact, just about every joke stemmed from O’Brien and NBC parting ways last January after he refused to move into the midnight slot. Clearly, he’s still a little bitter about losing his dream job and spares no expense to get a few jokes out of it.

His opening monologue was full of sharp-tongued one-liners, saying of the new show’s name that he “did it so I’d be a lot harder to replace.” Even Ricky Gervais made an appearance, wishing O’Brien luck on this show as well as all of the other “new shows” O’Brien will be hosting this year when endeavor after endeavor fails for him. Those looking for a big departure from the standard bitter one-liners from the past several months will be greatly disappointed.

The move to TBS has resulted in a much lower budget than what O’Brien became accustomed to, and he won’t let viewers forget that. Instead of his old set at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, O’Brien’s newest digs consist of a mock seascape, which toes the line between cool and tacky. A giant moon wobbles constantly behind his desk, making for a few good laughs. When random backstage noises interrupted his interview with “Glee” star Lea Michele, O’Brien quipped, “Basic cable. There’s a Meineke Muffler Shop right behind us.”

While some things may have changed, the fundamental way the man runs a late-night talk show has not. His longtime sidekick, Andy Richter, made the leap to TBS as well, chiming in with comments from his lectern and the couch. One of his famous characters, the Masturbating Bear, made an appearance, as well as The Basic Cable Band, Conan’s new house band. O’Brien’s humor is self-deprecating as ever, and he’s not afraid to play off of it, especially with his recent pay cut. It seems that O’Brien really is down for anything — on Tuesday he gave away a lock of his beard, which is something we would presumably never see from Jay Leno, NBC or any of the networks. O’Brien clearly likes to have a good time, and now has more freedom to do so.

Another thing O’Brien has going for him? His overload of celebrity friends is more than happy to visit his new cable crib. In his first week alone he had Lea Michele, Seth Rogen, Jack White, Tom Hanks, Julie Bowen and Michael Cera.

Only time will tell whether “Conan” will remain successful — it was first in the ratings this past week in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic — but let’s just hope he doesn’t stay stuck in the stereotypical talk show mold. Since “Conan” is on cable, he has a heck of a lot more room to be funny. Let’s just hope he uses it.

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