Everyone remembers where they were when Jimmy Fallon unveiled the cure for death.
"Welcome to the Tonight Show, you're here, you made it" shouted the eternally boyish Jimmy Fallon, as hundreds of fans applauded and whooped from the audience.
The monologue was loaded with jokes about politics and the pop culture icons of the day, just the same as it always was. Steve Allen had originated the format, only to pass it to Jack Paar, and then Johnny Carson, who was considered the king of late night.
"Irreplaceable," they said.
Of course, he was replaced. By Jay Leno, who jealously guarded the desk from David Letterman, only to lease it to Conan O'Brien for a few months before stealing it back. But even old Jay Leno couldn't last forever, leaving us Jimmy Fallon as the latest in a long line of Tonight Show hosts. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, history suggests Jimmy's reign should be brief.
There are a lot of things that should happen based on history. Old stars eventually fade, only to be replaced by new stars. The same happens to the adoring fans. The only certainties are death and taxes.
Every so often the world refreshes itself.
Well, that's how it was until the latest episode of The Tonight Show aired on a chilly December evening.
As always, the monologue was followed by a desk piece, where Jimmy Fallon bantered with his announcer Steve Higgins, standing at the podium a few feet away.
"It's a big night, Higgins!"
"Big night. BIG."
"HUGE. HUGE night."
"Earth shattering reveals."
"World changing!" Jimmy turned to speak directly to his audience, "That's not even a joke, you guys. Oh my gosh, the whole world is going to be different."
Something felt electric in the studio. But as much as Jimmy Fallon and Steve Higgins seemed eager to discuss some sort of big announcement, The Tonight Show is an old ship, and you can't easily steer it off course. It was a Friday, and on Fridays Jimmy Fallon always performs one of his most famous segments: "Thank You Notes."
The keyboard player in The Roots, James, played a calming little song, as Jimmy got started.
"Thank you Christmas trees," the host narrated, bent over a small card, pretending to write.
"For being the only acceptable way to decorate a corpse."
The audience's laughter was co-mingled with a groan or two, as Steve Higgins shouted out, "Trees only! No one likes a dead body. Even if you wrap it in tinsel."
"It's a shame, isn't it?" quipped Jimmy Fallon, with his infamous smirk. "...Put a star on top, the kids still scream."
At that, even the groans in the audience begrudgingly transformed into laughs, leaving almost no one to hear Steve Higgins' foreboding response:
"Well, no one is going to have to worry about dying anymore, so..."
The laughter drowned it out. An unacknowledged dark omen.
Several cards later, and Jimmy Fallon put down his pen to enthusiastically shout straight at the camera, "Those are my Thank You Notes, we'll be right back after the commercial break with a visit from the lead scientist at the world famous Omega Institute, Eve Russo. We're going to mix some chemicals to create some explosive Christmas decorations. Also a big announcement, GIGANTIC surprises, come on back!"
As the Roots played music, the camera swept across the audience of clapping, cheering fans, before cutting to a brief wide shot, where keen-eyed viewers could spot Jimmy Fallon at his desk, looking uncharacteristically nervous.
No one had any reason to expect what came next.
Eve Russo, of the Omega Institute, was the definition of a modern scientist. She was maybe in her late 30's, wearing a lab coat that looked like it came from Anthropologie, and she advertised an investment the Omega Institute was making in education.
"Because science is actually super cool, everyone," Eve seemed to make eye contact with everyone in the studio audience and at home. "I think we all know that boring science teacher who drones on and on, right? Well, what if I told you that science is actually magic?"
"Okay, okay, so what are we doing today?" Jimmy clearly had to be conscious of the length of time he gave this segment, or he was otherwise impatient and nervous.
"Well, first of all, I think we need our little lab set out here."
From behind the curtains, a couple of NBC pages wheeled out a large table with a clean white sheet on top.
Gripping the sheet tightly with both hands, Eve turned to Jimmy and asked, "Do you know one of my favorite movies to watch in the winter?"
"Uh, no. How 'bout, I dunno, Elf?"
"Elf? No, it's a bit darker than that."
With a FWAP, Eve whipped the sheet up into the air, revealing a diorama on the table before her.
Clear green fields, a hotel, and a hedge maze, whose leaves had turned brown.
"It's The Shining," she explained, as the audience "ooh'd" and "ahh'd."
"Jimmy, you know what's great about The Shining?"
"Scatman Crothers?" asked Steve Higgins, as Jimmy pointed and silently laughed.
"All the snow," explained Eve Russo, as if she hadn't noticed the interruption. "So how are we going to make snow?"
Eve reached below the table and came up with two glass tubes full of clear liquid.
"Again, it's just magic. Basic science."
Without another explanation, Eve shook each glass tube before pointing them at each other and splashing them in the air, letting the liquids mix as they rained down on the diorama.
In an instant, the liquids merged and became fluffy, powdery white snow, softly drifting down over the hedge maze to the enthusiastic applause of the audience.
"WHAT?!" cried Jimmy Fallon, in amazement.
"Oh we're not done yet," teased Eve Russo, grabbing another flask.
"You might have noticed that my hedge maze doesn't look quite like the movie, right? It's because in real life, leaves fall off of trees in the fall. Every year, the leaves turn yellow/red/brown, and fall away...Well I think we can work some more of our magic here and change that. Look closely."
Turning to the camera, Eve gestured for them to zoom in on the hedge maze closer, closer, closer, until the frame was filled with nothing but crackly, dry red leaves, seemingly moments from falling to the ground.
Eve's hand entered the frame, with another of her little tubes full of clear liquid. Eve tipped the liquid, letting a few drops splash onto the dying leaves, which almost instantly absorbed the liquid, gradually losing their cracks turning green.
Before America's eyes, scientist Eve Russo had reversed time.
Jimmy Fallon was almost jumping out of his skin, "Okay, what are you TALKING about, that's so cool!"
"A few drops at the base of each vine, and every leaf will be young and new as if winter was never coming. As if the hedge is experiencing an eternal spring."
The studio was silent. Was this going over the audience's head, or were they stunned?
Eve continued, unfazed, "Now, what if I told you I had one more demonstration?"
"Well, I'd, uh, I'd want to see it," deadpanned Jimmy Fallon, to a smattering of chuckles.
"Are you ready?" asked Eve, with a deadly sort of patience.
"Am I--what are you nuts? Yeah, I'm ready. I've been waiting for this all week."
"Are you sure?"
"Uh, yes yes!"
The audience enjoyed Jimmy's youthful impatience.
"Okay, so let me ask you, what's the absolute best part of The Shining?"
"Well you've got the ghosts, and the kid...Uh, Shelley Duvall, and--"
"Jack Nicholson?" interrupted Eve Russo.
"Yeah, of course, the great Jack Nicholson."
"Well what if I told you that the Omega Institute has been working on more than just conjuring snow and de-aging trees?"
The audience at home heard the studio audience gasp. Around the country, viewers were glued to the screen, sending friends links to watch, waiting with baited breath.
"Are you saying..." asked an unsure Jimmy Fallon.
"I think I need a little help demonstrating the power of our technology..." added Eve Russo, walking back to the curtains.
"Is there anyone back there who can help demonstrate the Omega Institute's latest magic trick?"
Throughout the studio, a song began to play. A droning tune recognizable from the eerie opening shot of The Shining, as the Torrance family drives through the mountains in their yellow Volkswagen beetle, heading toward certain doom at the Overlook Hotel.
As the song faded, a pair of hands parted the curtain, and an impossibly familiar face poked out to sneer at the audience, one eyebrow raised above a deadly grin.
"Heeeeere's Johnny," he cried, as the Roots thundered in with music that somehow shouted "SURPRISE!"
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I give to you JACK NICHOLSON!"
The curtains spread open, revealing a man no older than 40.
Every face in the audience was perplexed. Some clapped, but most were silent. One or two even fainted.
It was a magic trick after all. There wasn't a single person who didn't recognize the man taking the stage, but he hadn't looked this young in decades. It was like seeing a ghost. A ghost who was living and breathing, and full of crackling energy.
With all his characteristic confidence and swagger, the newly young Jack Nicholson greeted America as if for the first time, both eyebrows raised, wordlessly stating "I know how amazing this is."
"That's right, ladies and gentlemen...I'm back."
Eve Russo simply remained by the curtain, hands clasped in front of her, a look of absolute pleasure on her face. Satisfaction.
"Wow, Mr. Nicholson, oh my gosh, welcome to the Tonight Show."
"Thank you, James, I'm pleased as pie to be here," replied Jack Nicholson without making eye contact.
"Wow, okay, okay, I think I have to sit down, would you come take a seat so we can talk?"
"Not at all, James, not at all." Jack Nicholson had tucked one hand into his jacket pocket and turned 90 degrees to stroll to his seat. A new hush fell over the audience, heavy with the weight of anticipation and fully failing to comprehend how drastically the world had suddenly changed around them.
Jimmy Fallon had questions. Jack Nicholson had no interest or no knowledge about the specifics. What mattered was that he had been made young again.
"It's not some trick, you understand, James. It's not all smoke and mirrors. The beautiful Ms. Russo to my right has simply done the impossible, and here I am before you, a changed man."
"If you don't mind my asking, how old are you?"
"Well the answer has suddenly gotten a bit more complicated, hasn't it? I was born in 1937, so by the old way of counting I'm 85 years old, and I must say just a year ago I was feeling every minute of it. I may or may not have even managed to die once or twice while Ms. Russo worked her miracle. Yes, I've seen the other side, James. I've peeked through the curtain to the other world, but I've decided to stick around on this side for a while."
A door had been opened on the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. A door that would never be closed again.
The Omega Institute toured with Jack Nicholson for a while. A vocal majority had made it clear that they believed the de-aged Jack to be a digital trick. They had seen similar work done in Marvel movies and in Star Wars.
But seeing Jack Nicholson in person was to believe. He seemed contractually bound to the tour, and spoke loudly about his preference to get back into movies, back to his court side seats at the Lakers games.
But Jack wasn't his own man anymore. He was a product of the Omega Institute, and Eve Russo kept him on a short leash.
It wasn't long before the chemical, dubbed "The Fountain," was made available. And it was revealed that the effects were tenuous. Temporary in the extreme.
"Your body wants to age. It's the way nature used to be. Miss even a single day of drops, and you'll immediately feel the effects. Vision, hearing, skin elasticity. It can all go in an instant."
If any average person had dreams of de-aging their parents or grandparents, the price tag would get in their way.
Online, people bemoaned the loss of loved ones in the weeks and months prior to Jack Nicholson's return. Headlines would refer to them as "the last people who will ever die."
They were dead wrong.
The Fountain was only accessible by the most wealthy. The 1%. The same people who always get first dibs: rich people, famous people, folks used to injecting botox, plastic surgery victims who shouldn't have gotten that last procedure...
The stars no longer faded, no one could age out of certain roles. The Fountain didn't just turn back the clock, it tightened skin, revitalized lost hair, and in a lab, it could even grow new teeth.
The first decade was incredibly exciting:
- Jack Nicholson returned as The Joker.
- Mel Brooks starred in Spaceballs 2.
- Paul Rudd looked the same.
But for everyone else, The Fountain was a death sentence. At first, the possibility of eternal life had felt like a gift, but knowing it was just out of reach made dying something akin to a slap in the face.
The audiences turned on the ageless stars, resentful of seeing youth flaunted and celebrated.
Without an eager, paying audience, the budgets dried up. The productions were canceled, and many stars could no longer afford to live forever.
As the decades dragged on, people realized there are only so many Lin Manuel Miranda shows a person can take. Black Adam 27 just wasn't as much fun as it used to be.
At least Mr. Nicholson seemed to revel in his eternal youth. He was frequently pictured on yachts, cigar in hand, smirking while millions of less-fortunate souls marched through the veil to the other side.
A new wave of stars rose from the dying class. Some insisted they'd never take The Fountain, even if they could one day afford it. Many of them changed their minds eventually.
Somewhere in the late 24th century, eternal life was widely regarded as a big mistake.
But no matter how many thousands of years life limped on, Jimmy Fallon, the final host of The Tonight Show, would be there to keep them entertained.