“The Daily Show” is dead—long live “The Daily Show.”

On Monday night, Trevor Noah slid into the empty anchor chair vacated last summer by the venerable Jon Stewart. The premier host of Comedy Central’s hit news program definitely quit while he was still vital, judging by his staunch following and his stratospheric standing in the industry, boosted that much more just nine days ago by his Emmy win for Outstanding Variety Talk Series.

But enough about Jon Stewart, at least for the next sentence. Monday was Noah’s night, and the South African comic showed up feisty and ready for the inevitable skepticism and scrutiny underscored by articles like this one. It was also a franchise-defining moment, and although it’s too early to tell whether audiences will keep tuning in, Noah found solid middle ground in terms of his tone, establishing himself as the main act and offering the requisite hat-tips to his predecessor without getting lost in Stewart’s long shadow.

If Noah’s first outing on Comedy Central’s centerpiece show had to be whittled down to one word, it might be tight. The clip was quick, the jokes staccato, sketches were short and Noah was slick—maybe too slick. Viewers almost didn’t have time to miss Stewart (there’s that name again) with all the bright graphics and fast cuts, an amped-up appearance by first guest Kevin Hart, plus obligatory “Hey, who’re you?” gags from “Daily Show” correspondents Jordan Klepper and Roy Wood Jr.

Turns out that’s a good question on Klepper and Wood’s part. Of course, the patron saint of “The Daily Show,” as well as of several of Stewart’s successful former correspondents—Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell—will be missed. Whether that built-in problem can be surmounted, though, comes down to whether Noah comes through with his own distinctive style.

So far, not much style has hit this radar, with the exception of Noah’s expertly cut suit. He presents as superconfident, self-amused, able to appeal to a broad audience, and yet oddly devoid of substance. That may be the product of early-days jitters, or of an outright play on the cable network’s part to appeal to younger viewers, shifting to a high-energy, Snapchat-ready hosting strategy over a show thoughtfully driven by a central personality. Regardless, either Noah has to become a fully realized force in his own right or the rest of the cast and the show itself have to become more of a supporting presence than a backup act for a heavyweight host.

That said, Noah hit a few strong notes, sensibly launching the program with a couple of well-placed quips overtly addressing his status as an overseas import and as the 31-year-old new kid tapped by America’s “political dad” to take over, “and it’s weird because Dad has left.” Noah came right out there to address another key factor in this changing of the guard: “And now it feels like the family has a new stepdad and he’s black,” he cracked. “Which is not ideal.” Noah also took the trouble to point out that Comedy Central had offered the job to women and been turned down, so “a job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant.”

While that reference to Noah’s racial heritage and overseas roots made for a funny and timely zinger, his outsider-looking-in status makes him an unknown quantity in ways that might help his cause or present another potential obstacle, as viewers may need some convincing that someone who didn’t grow up steeped in American culture will be able to skewer it effectively. A couple of lines about U.S. politics dropped awkwardly out of Noah’s mouth on Monday’s first outing, as did an ill-conceived dud of an AIDS joke, but that’s a fix his writers can still help him make. (He may also need to recover from last spring’s flurry of Twitter-based concern about his personal politics, which initially marred the blank-slate effect.)

On the more promising side, Roy Wood Jr. hit on a topic that gestured at how Noah could make a serious mark in his new gig. During an otherwise passably humorous skit about Mars exploration, Wood warned his new host, “These white folks ain’t decided if they like you yet!” If he’s on his game, Noah could make it less about appealing to the same 18-to-49-year-old white males who famously got their news from “The Daily Show” while championing Jon Stewart and more about giving the Comedy Central classic a much-needed reboot in ways that extend beyond cynically luring key minority demographics.

Ultimately, “The Daily Show” didn’t just work because of what Noah inherited: great writers, top billing, the ability to draw coveted talent and the best guests—it worked because of Stewart’s persona. Levity plus gravitas is a tough combination to pull off, but Stewart did it year after year, for 16 years. It’s not Noah’s job to play to Stewart’s type, but he does have to be funny and savvy about his adopted home country in a manner that tracks with Americans regardless of their description in advertising lingo.

“We continue the war on bullshit,” Noah said, by way of reassuring the audience during his opening pitch. That war, along with the franchise, is now his to lose.

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