In an homage to Garry Shandling's iconic HBO series "The Larry Sanders Show," itself a nod to Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," the entire episode was filmed as if it was half talk show, half documentary about a talk show.
This was easily the most entertaining full hour of "The Tonight Show" in memory, and it had everything to do with how committed every player was to the ongoing narratives, which included a cockroach infestation, the Golden Globes Fiji water girl and the fact that everyone seems to hate Jimmy Fallon ... and they think he's looking a little puffy.
All we could think while watching it was that we would watch this version of "The Tonight Show" every night if that were remotely possible. It was so subversive and so hilarious, though we also imagine it totally confusing some people as they tried to understand what was going on.
Fallon even changed his opening credits to match the look and style of "Larry Sanders," which was a massive hit throughout the 1990s, and silently walked past a framed photograph of its creator and star, Garry Shandling, who passed away in 2016.
In one of the show's through-lines, Ben Stiller was supposed to show up and surprise Jimmy for his anniversary dressed as Hashtag the Bear. But the episode opened before the monologue to give us a glimpse at pre-show prep, and that accidentally included Jimmy running into Ben, ruining the surprise.
"I was gonna surprise you for your big anniversary show, but I guess now i can just go f--k myself," Stiller said. "Surprise is over, everybody. Surprise is ruined. Zero surprise."
And that was all the setup they needed for Ben to be pissed off for the rest of the hour. And when Jimmy said he could pretend to be surprised ... well honestly, that might have made things worse.
"Oh, you'll act surprised. Nice try, dude. I've seen you act," Stiller said, storming off.
"Okay, that's rude," Jimmy shot back.
This opening segment also set up Higgins through-line for the episode, which was him trying to promote his own cookbook in a bit very reminiscent of something that would have happened with Jeffrey Tambor's sidekick character Hank.
Some of the moments throughout the hour appeared to be genuine opportunities for us to get a look behind the curtain of how a TV show is made, even if they were all faked, such as when Tariq wasn't ready for Jimmy to throw to him during the monologue.
Later, Jimmy struggled to say the word "proliferation" while making fun of Trump not being able to say it, and it was played pretty sincerely. Ultimately, he cut the joke. And even though this episode was clearly a labor of love, Fallon and his team still managed to work in some topical humor, including a few jokes about Sunday night's Oscars telecast.
"Last night were the Academy Awards. It's when Hollywood gathers together to celebrate the films that nobody saw," he joked.
But it was just a set-up to cut to guest Tina Fey watching from her dressing room and trashing his jokes. The episode also cut to his production team and others on his staff, who seemed pretty irritated much of the time, but mostly did agree on one thing ... Jimmy's looking a little puffy.
A little later, we got the payoff to the Ben Stiller appearance, while setting up the through-line for conservationist Robert Irwin, who apparently accidentally released a large cockroach (or two) into the building during his last actual appearance, leading to an infestation.
Before Robert's appearance, virtually everyone would comment on the cockroaches. And they set it up with another segment Jimmy told the audience would be cut from the final broadcast. Can you imagine being part of that audience, thinking you're going to get a typical episode and then getting this darker and very different creature instead?
Ben then came out for his "surprise," with Jimmy acting as giddy and excited about it as he does everything, but Ben wasn't buying it. "You're such a bad actor," he said before storming off and having one of the hour's many, many, many encounters with an approximation of the Fiji Water Girl from the Golden Globes.
And then Ben would spend the rest of the episode looking for the stairs to get out of the building, because he was too mad to wait for the elevator. Is this stupid? Absolutely. But did it work, surprisingly it did.
Like most of the episode, Tina Fey's appearance was set up in the previous segment with a producer coming out to tell Jimmy that she is pissed off and says, "He knows what he did."
And yet, they had a fairly normal interview -- after she hugged him and told him he was a terrible person -- with Fey plugging her new book spinning out of "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and her upcoming Netflix movie, "Wine Country." But when they threw to a clip, we stayed with the pair to watch her tear into him.
When he tried to ask what the problem was, she simply reiterated he knew what he did. And if he didn't? "Well, maybe if you weren't popping so many pills you'd have a better sense of yourself."
Honestly, this was the only segment of the episode that didn't work completely because Jimmy couldn't quite pull off angry, so when he told Fey they just shouldn't talk until the clip was over, he totally failed to sell that emotion. He was great throughout the rest of it, in a way proving Ben wrong. He's certainly come a long way from his days on "SNL" with Tina when he'd giggle his way through every sketch.
Oh, and Tina's parting words to Jimmy were particularly cutting as they rang true to actual criticism Jimmy has gotten. "Trump got elected because of you," she told him, referring to Jimmy infamously tousling Trump's hair rather than slapping him with any hard-hitting questions.
Another brilliant pre-interview segment went down to set up Robert's appearance on the show, with Jimmy being called backstage to help him decide which animal to end on. But this version of Jimmy seems to have disdain for all of his guests, and particularly for the one he blames for the cockroach infestation.
And so he told Robert he didn't care and then laid into him for talking about his family's passion for animals.
"You're a very bad person," Robert told him. "What if I said who cares about one of your little knock-knock jokes, huh? What if I crapped all over your career, would that upset you?"
"Your career? Please, Robert, you're fifteen years old, okay," Jimmy shot back. "You're career is playing 'Fortnite' and popping boners."
A little harsh, right? Well, the stunned silence when Fallon returned to the studio revealed something even worse. We got a hot mic here! Not that Jimmy seemed to care all that much what people thought at that point, as he introduced Robert to the show as the guy who infested the building with cockroaches.
But Robert got him back with the hilarious reveal of which animal he'd chosen as his closer since Jimmy didn't care.
It was probably one of the most random segments of the show, but not if you think about this as a behind-the-scenes look at how a television production like "The Tonight Show" is made. And for the ongoing narrative, it fits the story we got from the writers room that Jimmy doesn't know any of their names and so they kind of think he's a dick.
What better way to get revenge, then, by writing him the perfect revenge script for a Telemundo promo for "The Tonight Show." Jimmy doesn't speak Spanish, so he'll read off anything, even if it includes describing himself as a "happy clown man" who actually cries himself to sleep each night.
Like the bulk of the episode, it was filmed with that awkward tension throughout, but made perfect sense within the context of what Fallon was building here. Plus, the translation, which we got via subtitles, was pretty damned funny, too.
"My loins ache for your approval," Fallon said in Spanish. "My desperate need for your attention is an illness with no cure. My only medicine is the thunder of your applause."
Again playing off of reality, the joke they came up with for six-time guests Florida Georgia Line is that the boys have never been invited to sit on the couch and share their stories with Jimmy.
And so during their performance, their (clearly fake) manager tried to give Jimmy the hard sell about getting his guys onto that couch. "They've got stories," he told them.
It would have worked fine that way, but it was even funnier when he hit the stage after they finished singing and they started coming at him too with really boring stories like, "I had sushi for the first time last night. I actually didn't think I was gonna like it, but I loved it."
After closing out the actual show in the previous segment, it seemed like things might be over, but Jimmy and company had one more surprise for us in the form of Robert De Niro, setting up to film a promo for "The Tonight Show."
At least until he saw a cockroach, and then several others. At that point, he decided he was done, declaring, "I'll be shopping my wares elsewhere," another through-line we heard from basically every guest throughout the night.
It was the perfect way to cap an ingenious hour of late-night television. Fans of the late, great Garry Shandling were rejoicing at how beautifully Jimmy and his team played homage to one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. And yet it was just as entertaining for anyone who'd never seen or even heard of that show.
And at the same time, this shows us just how sharp and brilliantly entertaining that type of program could be today. So many stars and entertainers would be willing to poke fun at themselves in such a way, and the advent of social media would take this alt-reality to a whole new level of subversive brilliance.
With so many spin-offs coming out of late-night television these days, consider this our clarion call for either a revival of "The Larry Sanders Show" format, or something very similar to what Jimmy Fallon just did. We would kill for a late-night show that could pull this off every night.
It's not that much different than Stephen Colbert building his alternate reality on "The Colbert Report" every night for ten years. But if we can't have that, we need Fallon to do this again someday, and not make us wait five more years to see it.