Sunday, December 15, 2013

TV: Cloaked In Stupid

If you're not watching Comedy Central and a Christmas TV special opens with a "TV PG L" warning, it's not a good sign.  For those not familiar with the TV rating system, that alphabet soup is supposed to give a heads up that the program will contain "infrequent coarse language."


Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale got that rating.  It shouldn't have.  It should have been rated NW and we'll get to that.  But first, the special opened with a little girl in pigtails, offering narration as she read from a picture book.

Little Girl:  Once upon a time, there was a singer named Kelly Clarkson who was the envy of every girl in the world.  She had a successful career, a wonderful husband and a record contract that was very generous by industry standards 

Kelly Clarkson:  Don't make me out to sound like a princess, come on.

Little Girl:  Anyway, all of her dreams were coming true -- until one day Kelly's manager asked her and her loyal assistant Chad to a very important meeting. 

Following that set-up, the next scene takes place.  Chad is played by Jai Rodriguez (the best thing about the awful Malibu Country) and her manager is played by Ken Jeong (Chang on Community). The joke is that Kelly's not trending in social media, she's way behind other Kellys, Chad's Tweets in her name are not going over and her manager wants her to consider rehab or going on The Voice to compete in order to raise her profile.  Kelly offers that she was hoping to do a TV special.  And then we move to Kelly in a red dress, on stage, performing "Run, Run Ruldolph."

This was a TV special with precious little that qualified as 'special.'

The little girl narrator might have been a good idea, a way to keep this special moving and provide a transition from scene to scene.  But it's a bad idea when the little girl reads a line of narration and the next scene, with William Shatner playing an NBC exec, opens with Shatner repeating the same line.  That's not creative, it's just redundant (and bad writing).  Since the line is about demographics and income distribution, it really needs to be clever otherwise it's not an inside industry joke, it's just an embarrassment.

It's also bad when the little girl is speaking beyond her years and about the industry. If that's the way to go, then you steal from the best.  In this case, that would be Laraine Newman and her amazing Paula Kirsch character (the little girl movie mogul) from Saturday Night Live.  (We are not commenting on the child actress who played the little girl in the Christmas special.  We are commenting on a poorly written character that the child actress portrayed.) Little Paula Kirsch could have offered all the industry slang and also had a tantrum which would have been hilarious.

But there wasn't much funny.

In fact, if you take away Blake Shelton's good sport charm, there really wasn't much funny at all.

What there was that worked was Kelly Clarkson singing.

There's no doubt that she can sing and she did amazing work with "My Favorite Things" but we were more impressed with "Wrapped In Red" -- which is the title track of her certified platinum Christmas album which came out at the end of October.

Not all the numbers worked.  Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood joined her for "Silent Night" -- for a pointless "Silent Night."  First off, Kelly and Trisha's voices are similar enough that they should never be dueting to begin with.  We're not fans of Reba's but when she was singing, you knew it was Reba.  The number was overdone and fussy, in a lower key than it should have been considering the range of the three singers, and completely missing the point of the lyrics.  Clarkson did a much better job (solo) on the Judy Garland classic "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

The non-singing moments were embarrassing throughout.  Again, it should have been rated "NW" -- no writers.

Kelly needs a cause, William Shatner insists at the start of the show.

 Can't do animal rights, that's Sarah Mclachlan.  Yeah, we saw Joan Rivers' 2012 tour.  Joan was hilarious.  If you missed it, you can rent or stream the concert film Don't Start With Me.  You can't, however, get anything but a weak retread out of William Shatner's dialogue.  Again, Joan was hilarious.  She might be flattered that NBC is ripping her off or she might feel (rightly) that NBC should give her a special.  In fact, why doesn't NBC do comedy concert specials?

But the really big question is why won't NBC pay for good writing?

They're using a public domain work (Dickens' A Christmas Carol) and they don't even credit anyone for writing on this special -- did everyone improvise?  If so, they sure aren't The Groundlings.

The scenes were so bad they made the writing on The Donny & Marie Show look like Masterpiece Theater.

Kelly Clarkson never seemed to have the right rhythm for the lines but when they're, for example, about  Trisha Yearwood being topless, we have to wonder if anything could save them?

We also had to wonder if Kelly Clarkson would go into the recording studio with no lyrics written?

That's what she did going into this special and in the end she's to blame.

No one else.

Her name's on the thing and she's responsible.

Next time she might try being less cheap and hiring actual writers.  It might mean less pennies in her pocket but it also should mean she's not looking like an idiot. It's rare you see a singing star in her prime embarrass herself so badly.

Few hosts have ever looked as stupid on TV as she did last week and while her album might be entitled Wrapped In Red, her NBC special should have been called Cloaked In Stupid.

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