For as much as live theatre is about the quality of specific performers or the strength of the material involved, it’s also about energy. There is an energy to song-and-dance performed onstage, and it’s an energy that has always been a central struggle for the recent revival of the live television staging of musical theatre.
Over the course of this recent trend, begun by NBC with The Sound of Music and now picked up by Fox with Grease Live, the various productions have been searching for how to tap into this energy when the conductive force of the audience is absent. The experience of seeing live theatre is in large part the experience of viewing it with other people, and not just in terms of being able to whisper reactions to the people around you. It’s about energy, a feeling in a room that you’re seeing a spectacle unfold before you or you’re being transported by an emotional ballad.
Social media can theoretically serve to bring the individual households tuned into one of these broadcasts together, but there isn’t the same type of energy, manifesting more as commentary than a natural emotional response. And while NBC’s musicals have evolved since The Sound of Music, this is one particular problem they’ve never quite solved: they have, by-and-large, been staging live theatre devoid of the energy that fuels it, hoping that what’s happening on the other side of the TV screens will cooperate without doing much to specifically address the issue. When Peter Pan build to its all-important audience participation moment, they accepted that the call would lead to no response in many cases.
And so when they announced that Grease Live would include a live audience, it seemed—on paper, at least—to be an effort to replicate this energy more directly. But whereas I imagined this as having an audience reacting to the production as one would at an actual theatrical production, it wasn’t like that at all. The vast majority of scenes went by without any audience reaction at all, with the audience only making appearances in selected large crowd scenes.
It was a decision I found confounding at first, but over time I started to realize that it was a byproduct of a central decision made by the production—led by director Thomas Kail—when it came to what they were making. Rather than a live staging of a theatrical production, Grease Live is the first real “television musical” to emerge from this era, designed from top-to-bottom to embrace the energy of watching live television.
And in the process, they managed to capture some of the energy of live theatre for good measure.
October 14th, 2010
The most common word I’m seeing in evaluating tonight’s 30 Rock is “experiment,” which is more evaluative than you might think.
We call it an experiment because it wasn’t actually very good. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy tonight’s 30 Rock (I did), or that the episode was a failure (it wasn’t). If the episode had actually lived up to expectations, we’d call it a risk worth taking, or a ballsy decision, but instead we consider it a one-off experiment in order to better reconcile its struggles within the show’s larger creative efforts.
As noted, I thought “Live Show” was fun, and think that there were parts of the way the episode was designed which worked quite nicely, but any deeper commentary built into the episode was killed by the live format. Many of the jokes landed, and a couple of the meta moments were successful, but any character development and much of the potential meta-commentary were lost in the midst of audience laughter.
“Without a Net, Without a Chair?”
April 6th, 2010
When FOX announced that Glee would be doing a concert tour in support of the show’s second season, I wasn’t particularly surprised: while they had initially said that they had no such plans, the show is too much of a phenomenon to resist what seems like a really logical brand extension.
However, two performances in the past week (At the White House Easter Egg Roll yesterday and on tomorrow’s episode of Oprah, filmed on Friday) have proven a really intriguing glimpse into both the potential for and the challenge of these concerts. The White House concert was very much enjoyable, especially having Michelle Obama and the first daughters grooving to the music in the “pit” between the stage and the crowd, but it also revealed that navigating the twisted web of character and actor, and doing it all without the benefit of auto-tune, is going to make for an extremely interesting concert-going experience.
Glee at the White House: Part One
Trapped between recreating and celebrating the show that fans love so much, the concerts are going to need to remain a careful negotiation of the cast’s musical ability…or maybe they just need to lipsynch to “Don’t Stop Believing” and fans will be happy.
“Megan Fox and U2”
September 26th, 2009
Saturday Night Live was last Fall’s biggest pop culture sensation. With Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression saving the show from a weak Obama impression, and Thursday timeslots building the show’s reputation, it built to some of its best numbers ever and its cache went beyond viral internet sensations written by Justin Timberlake/Lonely Island and into the show itself.
But suddenly, coming back this Fall, there is no election to provide a new impression that will keep people tuning in, and the Thursday shows are less a chance to built momentum and more a chance to burn material that might have been saved for the Saturday show under different circumstances. So while this week’s Weekend Update Thursday was somewhat tepid, it was still pulling away people and ideas that could have been put to use here.
This is all relevant because the start of Saturday Night Live’s thirty-fifth season is a collosal failure of comedy, an endless string of one-joke sketches which feel the exact opposite of culturally relevant. If the goal of this episode was to remind us that Saturday Night Live was capable of being funny even without Sarah Palin or a political climate which welcomes satire, then they have not succeeded: perhaps unfairly handicapped by a host who can’t actually act, and perhaps feeling too secure with a musical act that knows how to put on a good show (but, really, didn’t live up to that), the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live delivered a complete and total dud, one where we expect a Judy Grimes-style “just kidding” at the end that says what we’ve seen is some sort of big mistake.
And that’s probably not the best way to reassert your cultural relevance.
Open Bar. Slavish appreciation of celebrity and the cult therein. The Golden Globes are not about who wins, really, but that doesn’t mean that I would ever miss an opportunity to complain about it. Watch as I discuss the television awards with a false sense of authority, write about the movie awards with an even more false sense of authority, and gossip about celebrities with the exact amount of zero authority almost all internet commentators have on the subject.
I am not live-blogging the pre-show per se, but I have been writing some tweets, so follow me on Twitter for more fun on that front. But, really, we’re here for the judgments of the Hollywood Foreign Press – those guys are crazy.
7:49pm: First word of warning – time might jump forward an hour, I’m adjusting Atlantic Time to Eastern Time for your benefit and might occasionally screw up. Time for the pre-awards ten minutes of pre-show blogging.
7:54pm: Basics of the pre-show – NBC mindbogglingly combining people in a line so that they could get through more people, resulting in some enormously random combinations. Only real moment of any interest was Mark Wahlberg quite hilariously calling Jeremy Piven out on his mercury levels, and then Piven getting gravely serious about it, resulting in a lot of awkwardness. Otherwise, no drama of note, and I won’t attempt discuss anything related to fashion.
7:56pm: Okay, I lied – Kate Winslet looks really, really good. That is all.
7:58pm: Brooke Burke and Tiki Barber aren’t allowed to have opinions, silly Nancy O’Dell – that’s not why they’re there!
8:00pm: And here we go – wait, the Jonas Brothers are there? Oy vey.
Thoughts and Ruminations on HBO’s The Wire
December 8th, 2008
I doubt that anyone has ever really thought about it, but I’ve been living in a state of shame since, earlier this summer, I reviewed the first two episodes of The Wire, Season One, and made the follow proclamation:
“I figured that the more people talk about what is (thus far, and by all accounts) a fantastic series the better for my readers, readers everywhere, and maybe even the show’s long-shot Emmy chances.”
That post, and a post comparing the show to The Dark Knight, were the only two times I’ve talked about The Wire on this blog. Now, this isn’t that uncommon in terms of other shows I’ve caught up on: I got through four and a half seasons of Six Feet Under without talking about it (no, I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe next summer), and until the third season started I didn’t fill you all in last summer when I caught up on How I Met Your Mother. Due to both the speed at which I burn through these episodes, and the relative age of the material, it doesn’t seem like something that is entirely necessary.
But the difference with The Wire is that it wasn’t a normal catchup session – stretched out over a number of months, experiencing The Wire for the first time was something that still hasn’t left me. While I’ve almost forgotten I’ve seen most of Six Feet Under, I can’t help but wax philosophical about The Wire at every opportunity. Those of us who have seen the series, admittedly, must sound like a broken record, but there’s a certain creed of sorts: in any discussion raising the question about television shows to recommend, or television shows that have made an impact, or television shows that deserved more awards attention, or sometimes even just television in general, The Wire is going to be our go-to suggestion.
Tonight at 9pm EST, I will be joining Dave, Devindra and Adam of the /Filmcast for a live indepth discussion of The Wire, which will be the first time that I have truly entered into a dialogue about this amazing series. [To listen in to the live podcast, click here at 9pm] Considering this I felt like, even if I don’t have the substantial back catalogue I wish I had and that could have pulled you as readers into this universe sooner, I could at least offer some brief thoughts as I (if not through watching it) revisit the Shakespearean journey that is David Simon and Ed Burns’ The Wire.