Sunday, November 28, 2010

TV: The difference between 'special' and 'filler'

"If I was a boy," Beyonce insisted half-way through her ABC network filler Thursday night which some thought would be better off titled One Tiny Toe Out of the Closet. Insisted?

We were at a loss for a verb. "Sing" would be the obvious choice . . . unless you watched.


A year ago we were watching the Beyonce filler
ABC was attempting to pass off as a "special" and we should credit Beyonce -- or the camera operator -- with having learned since then. This year, the microphone was usually covering her lips in the shot so you had to really pay attention to grasp that she was lip synching through almost all of it. (There was one song she actually sang onstage.) We're glad that we helped a little and we also appear to have been successful with our edict issued last November on Thanksgiving specials: "No crotch grabbing." We didn't see Beyonce grab her much displayed camel toe once.

Beyonce and Taylor Swift served up filler on competing networks Thursday night. Taylor was on NBC with Taylor Swift: Speak Now and, as with Beyonce, it wasn't a special. Agents must be thrilled that they've found a way to package together footage that otherwise would hit the scrap pile, call it a "special" and get the networks to air it. However, a music special is supposed to be something a performer's doing to reach an audience -- all the more so when it's a holiday special. But in our years and years of watching the Thanksgiving offerings, we've only seen one person put on a special: Faith Hill. That was in November of 2005 and, had Faith not pulled it off, we wouldn't think it was possible.

She did a low-key, classy and touching holiday special. There was a theme and she actually knew what Thanksgiving was. That's the exception. Most don't bother to film a special or even do a live concert. No, a number of alleged artists think that vanity pieces qualify as specials.

Taylor Swift is a young woman and we'll be a lot easier on her as a result. We hope she got a big check from the network that she invested wisely but we also hope she grasps that she offered America not a damn thing.

Oh, look! It's Taylor en route to The Today Show! Oh, look! It's Taylor talking to Ellen! Oh, look! It's Taylor discussing tracks with her engineer!

These are not 'special moments,' these are the strips of garbage that belong on the cutting room floor. Sound checks? They might pass for bonuses on 'Deluxe' CD editions but they're not worth airing on television. If Taylor wants to be an artist -- and we hope she has the talent to be one -- then she might start treating herself as special which means not selling the network your ground chuck and insisting it's sirloin. In other words, Taylor, save that crap for your fan club. You want to be on TV on Thanksgiving and prove you've got talent? Tape a damn special.

Beyonce's thirty next year to which we say, "Thank goodness!" It might finally be the point where her not-that-great-body accounts for less and less of the hype.

Like Taylor, Beyonce thought film of her getting on and off airplanes was 'interesting.' She also thought whining on camera that she'd worked nine days in a row was something anyone needed or wanted to hear. Sears was open Thanksgiving Day. Do you think those who worked Thanksgiving Day -- or anyone who punches a time clock -- want to hear Beyonce whining about how 'tough' her life is? Or that, heaven forbid, she had to get up at five a.m.? Does she have any idea how many people get up at five a.m. every weekday morning in the US to prepare for work?

Even worse was Beyonce whining to the camera about why was she given so much fame and so much talent? "I know I'm not supposed to question God," she insisted. Save that nutty for your therapy session or your crack-up video. You shouldn't inflict it upon holiday TV viewers.

We heard about the Beyonce filler long before it aired because it was causing problems for ABC and because our review last year was rather infamous and passed around. As a result two ABC suits were calling us about the problems with this year's filler. And they were dredging up all the rumors.

It's not just that ___ [rapper] has done a nasty underground mix/dis of Beyonce and Jay-Z that likens their "chemistry" to Jodie Foster and Richard Gere in Somersby, it was all the rumors. There was Jay-Z's 'affair' with Lady Sovereign . . . who was an in the closet lesbian but who is out of the closet now and has always denied any physical relationship with Jay-Z. There was Jaz-O's infamous videotaped interview where he declares Jay-Z is gay -- Jaz-O later would insist it was edited to sound that way (though, actually, the video's not edited, Jaz-O). There were the rumors about Jay-Z and football player Larry Johnson. There's 50 Cent's non-stop references to Jay-Z as "a punk" . . .

Why were those rumors being raised as ABC was viewing the special and nixing certain moments?

Because of what the cameras were capturing.

At the crux of the matter is the fact that Beyonce looks like a half-hearted female impersonator. Or, more precisely, she's like a drunken frat boy on a Halloween dress up dare. And she moves like a frat boy as well which is why her 'dance' moves (which tire her out so quickly) are so awkward.

She was padding her hips for the special and ABC couldn't figure that out. We said, "Send us some footage." They did. We pointed out that her thunder thighs were even thicker than last year, that her body type was stocky and that this would all be highly noticeable if her costumes didn't so pad her hips that it appeared she was wearing a diaper.

On certain numbers, one of the biggest problems, all footage of her face made her look like a man. Only a little of that comes across in what was aired. (See "Single Ladies.")

But probably what got it all started was the audience footage.

Specifically, the suits were bothered by the non-stop footage of adult women who were clearly sexually vested in Beyonce and fainting and freaking out -- like teenage girls sexually attracted to John, George, Paul and Ringo in 1964 -- and Team Beyonce's notion that this was what a general audience was waiting to see.

The network asked weren't any men at Beyonce's concerts? They weren't thrilled with the alternate footage submitted (watch and you'll probably grasp what made them uncomfortable) but they grabbed anything they could.

Meanwhile the 'shorts' grabbed Beyonce's crotch. 'Shorts'? They looked like diapers. And they pretty much all gave her camel toe. "Is there anything feminine about her?" wondered one ABC exec (male) who marveled over the fact that Beyonce, when the camel toe issue was pointed out, still saw nothing wrong with it.

While they were concerned with how she came across in a gender role, our concern was with the lack of artistry on display. Specifically, watching, we had to wonder if she'd ever known passion?

Her performance of "At Last" never simmers, let alone comes to a boil (and her footage of Barack and Michelle Obama as she performs the song only indicates how clueless she is). Etta James need not worry, the 1941 song that she took up the charts in 1961 remains her own. Beyonce attempts some scale exercises, but never manages to convey passion -- no matter how much she scrunches up her face. She's no Etta James and she's no Diana Ross. Beyonce goes into the audience to perform a song . . . with six bodyguards. Diana's been doing that for decades -- without bodyguards. Most of all Beyonce's no Beyonce.

She's nothing. She's been performing forever and a day and has about as much awareness (and polish) as she did in the home video footage she showed of herself at age eight. Taylor Swift's 20-years-old, we hope she grows into an artist. Beyonce hits thirty next year and, though she's really fond of aping others, she's still not able to bring one thing to the table that's original or worthwhile.

She's a bit like a child actress who's now facing her thirties but still letting Mommy run her life. (Yes, you should be thinking of who we're thinking of right now.) A professional virgin who is utterly and completely unconvincing at any range of emotions that are beyond the expressive abilities of the average third grader.

Beyonce called the special I Am . . . It's a pity she can't finish the sentence. We have no idea if she's gay, a virgin, or what have you. But until she can figure out what she is offstage, she's going to have nothing to offer onstage -- as she demonstrated yet again Thursday night.
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