The late-night talk show game changed this year. It was the year Jimmy Kimmel became a pseudo-activist, Seth Meyers became a pseudo-news anchor, and Stephen Colbert brought some of his former Colbert Report flavor to The Late Show.
It was also the year for distractions. Former FLOTUS Michelle Obama surprised Americans on The Tonight Show, Leslie Jones cemented herself as our favorite Game of Thrones recapper, and Jennifer Lawrence delivered one of the best interviews ever as a sub for Jimmy Kimmel Live. (Even Fallon’s chat with Cardi B didn’t top it.)
These were the highs of late-night television in 2017 that sums up a year that jostled between polar opposites.
1. Jimmy Kimmel’s health care plea
The political became personal for Kimmel when his newborn son, Billy, was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease and required open heart surgery. Through a moving opening monologue that aired during an early May episode, the host revealed his family’s experience with a sick child to denounce Trump’s efforts to cut funding from the National Institute of Health. It was this moment that began Kimmel’s newfound efforts to advocate for health care coverage.
2. Jennifer Lawrence interviews Kim Kardashian West
“My first question: Do you think it’s a coincidence that Reggie Bush’s wife looks just like you? I don’t.” Thus began Jennifer Lawrence’s interview with Kim Kardashian West when she filled in for Kimmel on his show in November, and it just got better from there.
3. Michelle Obama surprises Americans on The Tonight Show
Goodbyes are always hard, but Michelle Obama made her White House leave a little easier for lucky guests of The Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon had some Americans record goodbye messages for the former First Lady, but they were surprised to discover that Obama was there in person to hear them.
4. Leslie Jones watches Game of Thrones with Seth Meyers
If, God forbid, Saturday Night Live abruptly ends for Leslie Jones, she could make a career out of recapping virtually anything. As Meyers learned on Late Night in August, Game of Thrones is so much better with the Ghostbusters funny gal on the couch. He even surprised her with Thrones actor Conleth Hill (“The Spider” Varys).
“Oh my god, this is so cool!” Jones exclaimed. “I was saying that you can’t trust your ass, but you know sh— that you not telling everybody.”
Someone get this woman a Game of Thrones after-show stat!
5. James Corden and Victoria Beckham recreate Mannequin
Victoria Beckam’s secret project with James Corden was worth the wait. While many of her fans assumed her behind-the-scenes teases were signaling an epic Carpool Karaoke, the March episode of The Late Late Show revealed a more extravagant spoof of the movie Mannequin — with a Carpool Karaoke bit squeezed in.
6. Samantha Bee tackles the climate of sexual harassment
We heard Colbert, Meyers, John Oliver, Bill Maher, Kimmel, and Fallon address the sexual harassment allegations running rampant through Hollywood, but the female perspective was lacking in this arena. That’s because Samantha Bee (like Robin Thede) is a lone wolf in the sausage fest that is the late-night TV circuit. Her takedown of Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and other “perverts” was hilarious and blisteringly poignant.
7. Harry Styles does Carpool Karaoke
The bromance between Harry Styles and Corden continued when the “Sign of the Times” singer got in the Carpool Karaoke van with the Late Late Show show host for a May show. Styles sang some of his hits, he sang some of other people’s hits, and he changed into various outfits — including a glistening “nippley” top. But now we also know the two shared a kiss for Corden’s Christmas mashup video, which makes it infinitely better.
8. Stephen Colbert does Russia
Many late-night hosts riffed on the Russia collusion scandal with the Trump administration, but Colbert actually did his own investigation on location. The host’s week in Russia featured an appearance on the country’s equivalent of The Tonight Show, a front-seat drive with a Russian oligarch, and — the pièce de résistance — a trip to Trump’s alleged “pee pee tape” hotel room from the infamous dossier.
9. Not the WHCD
The stars came out for Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Bee’s counter-event to the official White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Allison Janney channeled her West Wing character for the opening monologue, Steve Buscemi analyzed the Trump team’s obsession with “alternative facts,” and Will Ferrell reprised his impression of George W. Bush. “Helen Thomas asks tougher questions as a dead woman than any man at Fox News asks today,” Ferrell said with a grin.
10. Thor: Ragnarok cast performs the Marvel film live!
Better than any Crosswalk Theater — although, those were pretty spectacular this year — Corden assembled the cast of Thor: Ragnarok to surprise a movie theater audience in California with a live reenactment of the story. Watching Jeff Goldblum eat popcorn with the crowd while Cate Blanchett poo-pooed the whole thing was worth the watch.
11. Miley Cyrus and Adam Sandler open The Tonight Show with Dido’s “No Freedom”
As Fallon said during the opening of his show in October, his mission was to entertain this year — even in the face of tragedy. So, in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Adam Sandler joined Miley Cyrus on stage to perform an emotional cover of Dido’s “No Freedom.”
“I love that there is no love without freedom,” Cyrus told Fallon afterwards, “and I think about that when these tragic events happen, what is music if we can’t go see our favorite artists perform because we’re scared of violence or we’re scared of losing someone that we love to go to a concert or go see a film?”
12. Tiffany Haddish tells her swamp tour story
Since her breakthrough performance in Girls Trip this summer, Tiffany Haddish continued her meteoric rise to superstar status. Even as a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live, she proved all she needs to shine is to be herself. No description of her swamp tour story about Will and Jada Pinkett Smith could best the way Haddish tells it.
13. John Oliver taps Weird Al Yankovic to sing to North Korea
Weird Al Yankovik’s North Korea song channeled our angst in August when there Trump poked the bear of nuclear war with Kim Jong-un. It deserves a replay, as does Oliver’s message to the country. “When our president says words, he doesn’t necessarily mean what those words mean,” the Last Week Tonight host said.
14. Conan’s awkward car ride with Tom Cruise
No one does “awkward” quite like Conan O’Brien. With his own version of Carpool Karaoke (but without the karaoke), he rode around London with Tom Cruise and every minute that went by made the trip more uncomfortable. After enduring 11 minutes of footage, Cruise put himself out of his misery by jumping out of the vehicle.
15. Milo Yiannopoulos appears on Real Time
Former alt-right Breitbart blogger Milo Yiannopoulos continually spread chaos with his divisive comments. But when he appeared on Maher’s Real Time — a decision for which the host got flack — guest panelist Larry Wilmore told the controversial personality something you normally can’t utter on television without getting bleeped. But it was HBO, so…
“You can go f— yourself, all right?” Wilmore said. “If your argument is these people are stupid, you didn’t hear a word [U.S. counterterrorism intelligence officer Malcolm Nance] said earlier in this segment. He can talk circles around your pathetic douchy little a—.” It’s one of the most memorable moments of the year, full stop.