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TELEVISION REVIEW

Leno bids an unfond farewell with another halfhearted effort

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / February 10, 2010

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Last night, Jay Leno said farewell to his short-lived “Jay Leno Show’’ with all the momentousness of a guy taking out the trash. He tied up the bag and carried it to the curb, leaving it there for the ever-rushing stream of pop culture to carry it far, far away. He almost seemed to be squeezing his nostrils with his free hand.

Not that Leno needed to be reverent. The “Jay Leno Show’’ lasted all of five months, and Leno himself - along with viewers - never quite embraced it. He seemed to be merely going through the motions from the Sept. 14 premiere onward, and last night he referred to the series by using a prison metaphor. “The show was supposed to last two years,’’ he said in his banter with band leader Kevin Eubanks, “but my sentence was reduced to five months for good behavior.’’ Good? Hmm.

Early in the hour, Leno delivered a jokey look back at “the last five months of this thing,’’ leaning on a tone of mock nostalgia. He recalled pulling into his parking space last fall and seeing the sign “No Parking after Feb. 9,’’ and he played a pretend outtake in which Kanye West socked him during his post-Video Music Awards interview. Fellow NBC personality Donald Trump also showed up via satellite to deliver his big (and only) punchline, “You’re fired.’’ Technically, of course, Leno was not fired, because he will be hosting “The Tonight Show’’ beginning March 1; but Trump will be Trump, and an “Apprentice’’ plug is an “Apprentice’’ plug.

Guest Ashton Kutcher, fresh off a “Saturday Night Live’’ hosting gig, began his interview by telling Leno that he was essentially on candid camera. “This whole Tonight-Show-earlier-show thing was a punk,’’ he said to moderate laughter. “Six years ago, I sat in an office at NBC. Unfortunately, we forgot to roll the cameras, and so I don’t have any of the tape, but I thought I’d come out and do the reveal.’’

Still looking somewhat awkward without his desk, Leno responded, “You did a hell of a job. I’m glad it’s over.’’

The rest of the last “Jay Leno Show’’ seemed bent on making us glad it was over. The prefabricated promotional chitchat with Kutcher about his new movie and (ooh!) his sex scene with costar Jessica Alba, the bland standup jokes about Toyota and Sarah Palin, the “10 @ 10’’ segment with the long-winded Bob Costas that was really just a big, fat Olympics plug - it was stubbornly half-hearted and rote. Leno appeared to be quite eager to finish, though perhaps not as eager as NBC affiliates and lovers of 10 p.m. dramas were to see him go.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

THE JAY LENO SHOW On: NBC, Ch. 7

Last night, 10-11