Monday, December 09, 2019

TV: 'Tis the season for what exactly?

On December 25th, there are a few basic ground rules.  The biggest one?  Whatever gets handed to you, you swear -- whether it was wrapped or not -- "I love it, I really, really love it."  You swear that with a big, smile on your face.  Fortunately, it's not December 25th and, regardless, we don't follow ground rules.


Last week, ABC offered CMA'S COUNTRY CHRISTMAS and it was a depressing and disappointing affair.  The disaster commenced the moment Trisha Yearwood, the host, stepped on stage.  Trisha's a large woman.  That's not the problem.  The problem was that this was a Christmas special and she showed up wearing what looked like a long, trailing feed sack.  There was nothing about the outfit that screamed either "Special!" or "Christmas!"  Things only got worse when she opened her mouth to sing.  She wasn't prepared on the first number to sing and it wasn't until "Winter Wonderland" that her voice finally warmed up and she was hitting more than two notes.  However, the larger range was undercut by her poor enunciation -- "winder" wonderland?  "Winder"?

It was a dull and off-putting special and none of the guests could improve on it.  Not Dierks Bentley, not Lady Antebellum, not Chris Janson, not anyone.

Maybe the three we named had tired themselves out?

They were in much better form the week prior on NBC's DOLLY PARTON: 50 YEARS AT THE GRAND OLE OPRY.  Or maybe it was just that the host there, Dolly, knew how to set a mood?

Dolly was informal and funny.  She told stories about her family and her career and about addressing sexism.  It was always funny, always warm.  She never spoke out of hate or anger.  She was warm and made the special warm as well.  She honored those who supported her including Minnie Pearl, Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, She shared her memory of meeting Johnny Cash.

She performed songs throughout -- including "Jolene," "9 To 5," "Coat of Many Colors," "Joshua," "My Tennessee Mountain Home" (which she played dulcimer on)  and "I Will Always Love You" -- and her guests performed as well.  Lady Antebellum really cooked on "Islands In The Stream," for example.  Candi Carpenter nailed "Little Sparrow." Dierks Bentley brought his mother (Cathy Childs Bentley) onstage "She didn't come for me, she came because of Dolly Parton.  That's why we're all here."  He then did a wonderful bluegrass version of "Old Flames Can't Hold A Candle To You."  Chris Janson he performed a blistering version of "Mule Skinner Blues."  Emmylou Harris did a tender version of "To Daddy."

Now, yes, they were singing songs Dolly recorded (many of which she also wrote).  But it's really past time for people doing Christmas songs to buy a damn clue.  No one's done a reinvention of a traditional Christmas song since Stevie Nicks' "Silent Night" on A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS back in the 80s.  On that same special, Chrissie Hynde did what everyone thinks they can do -- but they can't -- she took a well known song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and made it her own.

Most do not have that gift and no one on the ABC special did.  More to the point, don't bring on Kirstin Chenoweth to sing one Christmas song, let alone two.  She can't.  It might play on a Broadway stage but the bulk of America never wanted to see Ethel Merman singing on the small screen (or the big screen, for that matter).  She was a Broadway talent, like Kirstin, who reached out across the aisles.  But in front of a camera?  She, like Kirstin, was just grotesque.

Another tip?  These songs can be carried off during caroling because it's a group of people.  So maybe stop the 'star turns' (that aren't) and have four guests top -- just have the four guests and the host sing together on the Christmas songs.  And when you do that, don't invite a Kirstin to join in because her singing and range did not blend well with Trisha Yearwood, Tori Kelly, Hillary Scott and CeCe Winans -- or even later when more people joined.  Kirstin is not a popular recording artist.  She is a howls and hollers on Broadway.  She's not fit for an intimate occasion.

Joe Biden's pretty grotesque himself and he spent last week, apparently warming up with his version of the Christmas spirit, attacking others.

Maybe he was still smarting over the Iowa farmer who ignored him at the diner?

That time when former VP is standing right next to you at the Corn Stalk Cafe and you just don’t care.

Whatever the reason, Joe was raging last week.  LZ Granderson (CNN) explains:

Take his recent confrontation with a voter at a campaign event in Iowa. The man accused Biden of placing his son, Hunter, with a Ukrainian gas company "in order to get access to the president" (he was referring to Barack Obama) — an accusation for which there is zero evidence. The way Biden handled the moment was Trumpian. He called him a "damn liar" and later said, "You're too old to vote for me." He even challenged the man to a pushup contest. I repeat: a pushup contest. 

Dan Mangan (CNBC) also covered the incident:

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden on Thursday called a man in Iowa a “damn liar,” “fat” and “too old to vote for me” after the man accused Biden without any evidence of getting his son Hunter a job with a Ukrainian gas company in exchange for access to the Obama administration.

NPR reported on it:

Voters say they felt Biden's tone was off-putting, especially from a candidate who talks a lot about restoring civility. Biden argues he was just telling it like it is.
"That's not civil?" Biden said. "To call someone who lied a liar?"
One woman, Mary Clark, who is 94, told NPR before a Biden event Friday in Elkader, Iowa, that she was "so disappointed in Biden. That is not the Joe I know. He sounded like Donald Trump in that clip."

Biden wholly dismissed that comparison. "Donald Trump, he makes fun of people. He belittles people. He lies. I don't do any of those things. Period."

Everybody reported on it -- because it was outrageous.

Saturday on WEEKEND EDITION (NPR), Rachel Martin's interview with Joe Biden aired.  Excerpt:

MARTIN: I want to switch gears and ask you...

BIDEN: Sure you do (laughter).

MARTIN: ...What happened the other day at your town hall because...


MARTIN: ...You got a lot of attention for it. A man stood up and started throwing false allegations your way about your son, Hunter Biden, and his work in Ukraine and your work as vice president then in Ukraine. And you responded by calling him a damn liar.

BIDEN: Because he lied.

MARTIN: And then you challenged him to pushups.

BIDEN: I was joking with him because he...

MARTIN: And then you asked him for an IQ test.

BIDEN: No. He came along. And he - well, he's saying - he said he's entitled to do this. He said, you're too old - said, you're too old. I can't vote for somebody as old as you - I said, OK. And I was challenging what kind of shape - so I kidded. I said, want to do a pushup contest? I was joking. Look. I'm in pretty good shape.

MARTIN: Which is what Donald Trump says a lot - hey. You can't take a joke. I was joking. The point...

BIDEN: No, no, no, no, no.

MARTIN: But the point I bring it up...

BIDEN: Don't compare me to Donald Trump.

MARTIN: But people did.

BIDEN: Don't do that.

MARTIN: At the town hall I was just at, they...

BIDEN: No, they didn't.

MARTIN: Yes, they did.

BIDEN: Well, I...

MARTIN: They said to me - the woman you met at the end said to me, I was so disappointed in him. This is a direct quote. "That is not the Joe I know. He sounded like Donald Trump in that clip."

BIDEN: Well, look. Donald - what Donald Trump says - he makes fun of people. He belittles people. He lies. I don't do any of those things - period. The fact of the matter is this guy stood up, and he was, in fact, lying. And I just pointed out, you're a liar. It's a fact. He lied - period. And so, you know, maybe I shouldn't be kidded with him about that - you know, let's do pushups. It's like I was out here in a parade, a Fourth of July parade.

MARTIN: But I think people's point was, in this time, when you talk about needing to restore civility, it's so important to so many people...

BIDEN: That's not civil, to call someone who lied a liar?

MARTIN: To call someone a damn liar, a voter. This isn't Trump - President Trump.

BIDEN: But he's lying. You acknowledge what he said wasn't even true. None of the mainstream media believes any of that was true.

MARTIN: I think it was the tone.

BIDEN: Well...

MARTIN: I think it was the tone that was off-putting to people.

He was rude and confrontational.  Yes, with the voter; however, we're referring to his exchange with Rachel Martin above.  As Connor Mannion (MEDIAITE) observed, "2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden got testy with NPR about his confrontation with a voter in Iowa after host Rachel Martin said his behavior was not unlike President Donald Trump." Madison Dibble (WASHINGTON EXAMINER) terms it "a fiery exchange."

Joe's not fit for the holidays, let alone for the presidency.

THE MOODYS isn't fit for the holidays or TV.  It's FOX's sitcom mini-series -- a genre that should have died with 1986's FRESNO.  Instead, it's been brought back and it's just not funny.

Nor will it suddenly become funny.  Last week, we noted NETFLIX's holiday sitcom HAPPY MERRY WHATEVER and that it started off badly but got better.  That's not going to happen here.  Instead, the acting and humor gets worse with each episode.  HAPPY MERRY WHATEVER is filmed before a live studio audience.  That provides feedback and actors can ponder why this or that didn't work or generate a laugh.  There's no audience watching a taping of THE MOODYS so there's no way it's ever going to improve.

And it's awful.

Elizabeth Perkins is the only one who knows a thing about comedy on the show.  She sometimes generates a laugh or two.  Denis Leary is a supposed comic so he should at least have timing down.  Watching him flounder with even something that basic, we're left to assume that he didn't just steal Bill Hicks' jokes, he also stole Bill's delivery and, with no one to steal from anymore, he's not capable of being funny.

Francois Arnaud plays the oldest son and he's got a big problem: He thinks he's in a drama.  If he were, he'd be wonderful.  But this is a sitcom which is supposed to make you laugh.  Chelsea Frei plays the oldest daughter and she's pretty awful too.  In her case, we will note, the writers have gone over the top but not over the top enough.  If they're going to write crass storylines for her, fine, but make them funny.  A live audience would have demonstrated to the writers that they needed to punch up every line they've given her.  And then there's the youngest son voiced by Jay Braruchel.  Does Jay not realize he's playing the joke of the family?  That he's supposed to be outrageous?  He has no energy to bring to any scene and no sense of timing or comedy.

It's just an awful show and, again, it does not get better because there was no feedback during the filming.  A live studio audience could have aided the show.  Instead, it's another floundering single-cam sitcom that never takes off.

ABC's holiday offerings last week included Brad Paisley's BRAD PAISLEY THINKS HE'S SPECIAL which was a holiday variety special (not a music special like Dolly's).  He sang a little, did a lot of pre-filmed segments and was amiable.  Peyton Manning may have been needed to draw in viewers (maybe not) but he wasn't needed on the show.  He was a dour presence whose insults about Brad were supposed to be funny.  We've been there before.  CBS in the sixties, insisting on Jerry Van Dyke as a second banana on THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW.  All he did was insult her and put her down.  Audiences didn't like him -- which is why he was fired.

If Brad does another variety special -- and we'd suggest he should, he demonstrated a natural talent -- let's hope Peyton is either completely absent or better utilized.

And let's hope that before December 25th, the networks offer more like Dolly and Brad's specials and less nonsense like THE MOODYS.

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