Jimmy Kimmel is out for a few episodes of his late-night show to attend to his newborn son. On May 4, Kristen Bell stepped in to guest-host Jimmy Kimmel Live in his stead, joining the rare group of women who have taken on those duties in a male-dominated field.
This is such a rare occurrence that the show started with a mock “warning” that the show would, in fact, be hosted by a woman that evening. With boobs. Two of them.
Kristen takes the stage in a gorgeous low-cut tuxedo that if someone can find me, I absolutely want, putting a feminine spin on the suit traditionally worn by male hosts. She is greeted warmly by the audience and immediately takes up the regular host’s longtime feud by saying, “I think I’ll be fine (hosting the show)… I legitimately hate Matt Damon.”
Bell is a fantastic departure from the male personas who are ubiquitous in late-night TV. She’s warm and bubbly, while also being sarcastic and pointed when appropriate. She feels like your best friend, the kind with whom you want to sit in the corner and gossip all night, but is also your biggest cheerleader.
I’m not a regular watcher of JKL and only tuned in Thursday night because I’m a huge Bell fan, going back to watching Veronica Mars when it aired originally and enjoying her work on TV in Party Down and The Good Place, and, yes, as the voice of Anna in Frozen. (The Lifeguard is one of her smaller and weirder films, but enjoyable, and her husband’s Hit and Run, which she has a role in, is way more fun than it has any right to be or that you’re expecting.) So… I have some KBell love and wasn’t going into this objectively. But I was still surprised at how deftly she handled her one-off in Jimmy’s role.
Her opening monologue was a mix of relatable (“I have kids, so I haven’t been up this late since 2012”) and self-deprecating (on her being there instead of Jimmy, “I get it, you bought a movie ticket to Rogue One and now you’re watching Matt Damon’s China wall ponytail movie”), while assuring the audience, and herself, she’d do just fine.
Her wide-eyed and sincere demeanor while also being a person who has seen some things played great when she assisted with a promposal. Now, normally, as the cynical jerk that I am, I *hate* promposals. High school is given way more importance than it deserves and prom is a total waste of time. I guess if you’re 18 and this is all you got, fine, whatever. But Bell sells it and makes you believe in her “contest”: two young women are going to race to find Kristoff, who played her boyfriend in Frozen, on Hollywood Boulevard, plucking him from all the other costumed characters for a prize.
— Jimmy Kimmel Live (@JimmyKimmelLive) May 5, 2017
The twist is that costumed Kristoff is a guy with a crush on one of the contestants and the other contestant is a plant. When the “contestant” returns with her Kristoff, who reveals himself, Bell shows off her singing chops, changing the words to “Do you want to build a snowman?” to be about prom… with some added profanity. It is perfect. And perfectly adorable without being treacly. The girl being asked to prom doesn’t even wait for the song to finish and steals the mic from Bell to exclaim “yes!” to the promposal, letting you know this isn’t all perfectly scripted. At the end, Bell gifts the new couple a prom package, “Including a case of a beer… I’m joking about the beer…(aside) I’m not joking about the beer.”
This is not only the cool best friend, but the fun aunt and older sister all rolled up into a tiny blonde gorgeous (but non-threatening) package. And we haven’t even gotten to the obligatory guest visits yet.
Charlie Hunnam is her first guest, there to promote his movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Now, I’m not an expert on movies, but Guy Ritchie’s foray into Arthurian legend doesn’t look, to me, from the previews as… how do you say this? Good. It doesn’t look good. By the end of their interview, I was almost ready to plunk a few dollars down on it. (By which I mean I’ll wait until it’s playing on basic cable and watch it then.)
After the hoots from the females in the crowd upon Hunnam’s entrance, because he is nothing if not attractive, Bell interjects, “Guys, he smells really good.” I wish we got this kind of insight from all hosts. This is the kind of thing women share with each other about men and that a male host would never ever think to share with the audience. Their interaction for the duration of the interview is fun and flirtatious without feeling creepy or leering, the way David Letterman could sometimes feel when interacting with female guests. It’s slightly goofy and always fun. She objectifies him (which I am all for, turnabout is fair play) in a light way as they discuss how stylists sometimes convince you to get into outfits that are not at all you, as she shows a photo of him shirtless in leather pants. She lets him know that even if he felt awkward in them, no one is looking at the leather pants. She’s not wrong.
The great thing about her interaction with Hunnam is that it never felt overly rehearsed, as is often the case on late-night talk shows, the guest nervously reciting the funny anecdote that you know they practiced earlier that day. Actors: good at delivering lines, not always great at appearing human. When she asks him in a high-pitched squeak “Do you like animals?!”, looking for common interests, it feels completely genuine. Hunnam then relates the story of saving a cat that he’s now had for 17 years and you’ve never rooted harder for him.
Her next guest is a bit of a ringer, as she and Adam Scott have, as they discuss, worked together numerous times, going back to his one-off as the rapey teacher of a classmate on Veronica Mars. They talk about how boring and white they are and it is utterly charming. Then Bell has him relay a story that he previously told on Kimmel about inviting Mark Hamill to his birthday party as a little kid, which felt a little odd because people tend to be loyal to these shows and would probably already know it. So it maybe should have felt like a set-up, but YOU NEVER SEE IT COMING!
Luke is clearly off shooting up Endor for episode 20 or whatever we’re on at this point; he’s not popping into JKL. But he does! And the look on Adam Scott’s face as it slowly dawns on him what is happening, and then as Mark Hamill enters the studio is priceless. Sheer, unadulterated joy and surprise. It was well-played by Bell and a truly great television moment.
The joy and earnestness that Bell brings to her episode of JKL is something we, in these very trying times, could use more of in all of TV — especially late-night. She’s more reminiscent of Ellen DeGeneres than of the straight white males who occupy late-night. The format of male host riffing on politics or nonsense, a quasi-funny sketch, and then celeb interviews is in dire need of a new perspective, even as some new players have entered the scene. That perspective would be well-served by being female. It’s obviously a small sample size and I came into it with a pro-Bell bias, but I would gladly tune into more of her doing what she did so very well with her one shot.
Just so you don’t think I’m all in on my KBell love, she does tell Scott that she and her husband played their favorite game, Settlers of Catan, “which is not boring at all because it’s a strategy game and it’s super fun.” I cannot think of many things I have done that are less fun than playing Settlers. And I’ve taken the bar exam. Twice. She’s very, very wrong on this account. But, ya know, to each their own. And maybe if I played with Dax and Kristen, I’d feel differently about it. (Call me, Kristen, we can have game night.)