Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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TV O.D. : The Next Best Thing

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 13, 2007

No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Madonna-Rupert Everett movie, not yet anyway

I guess in the thick of the black hole that is summer primetime television, the big networks revert to their default mode, which in 2007 is unquestionably the reality talent show format. It’s hard to tell if there’s any new programming on the big four this summer that doesn’t follow the American Idol format in some way–it’s actually kind of scary and fairly unhealthy that one TV show has this much influence on the TV landscape, especially one with such a simple and basic formula as Idol‘s (a whole lot of laughably awful contestants, a handful of pretty good ones, and some snarky judges to let audiences know what the difference between the two is). I don’t really see why one of the four doesn’t use this opportunity to take a chance on something new and interesting in such a primetime wasteland, but in the meantime, I guess you gotta work with what you can.

Anyway, I haven’t had the balls yet to try to connect with So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Got Talent, and I doubt I will anytime soon. But I fumbled past ABC’s celebrity impersonator showcase The Next Best Thing, and it definitely sucked me in. It’s shameless in its Idol aping, sure, but I never realized just how thrilling it is to watch an hour of people who look and sound slightly like celebrities–it’s about as gaudy and cheap as thrills come, but hey, summer TV is summer TV, and I don’t need too much work with while eating Chinese take-out and playing Weboggle on a Wednesday night (that’s right folks, start pop culture blogging yourself and your life too could be this exciting!)

Anyway, the good thing about a show like this is–even moreso than Idol or the flailing On the Set–is that it really doesn’t matter if the contestants you’re watching are good or not. The good ones are funny because the impressions are so right on (and a really good impression is almost always funny, for some reason) and the bad ones are funny because they’re so far off (or, in the case of some, are really good at one aspect but comically off in others–the Christopher Walken dude had the voice down pat but didn’t look a thing like The Cowbelled One). Really though, just looking at these guys is usually pretty hysterical, and usually it just ends up disappointing once they open their mouths.

Just as funny as the contestants, though, are the judges. Not because they make funny comments–they make maybe one an episode if they’re lucky–but because it’s always fascinating to see a couple of G-list celebrities (Jeffrey Ross, Elon Gold and Lisa Ann Walter, none of whom have done much of anything and none of whose names I can ever remember) act like they’re famous enough to rag on a bunch of dudes and chicks who, just by virtue of appearing on this show, are arguably now just as famous as they are. It’s one of the many reasons why I could never be on a show like this–a couple snarky comments from Elon and I’d be grabbing the mic stand and rushing over the table in an attempt to punish him for thinking he’s celebrity enough to talk shit about me.

Usually, at least the three judges on a show like this have the sense to follow the Idol formula for judges (cheerleader, critic and intermediary), but here, Lisa basically just says nothing while Elon and Jeffrey constantly attempt to out-Simon each other. Even when the contestants aren’t that bad (I especially thought the Robert DeNiro impersonator got shafted), it’s always either passable or mock-worthy with these dudes, while they unleash a seemingly endless barrage of bad put-down puns based on the current impersonator. Examples:

  • To Sammy Davis, Jr.: “The Candy Man Can’t!
  • To Elton John: “You’re not still standing!”
  • To James Bond: “Where’s the Man With the Golden Gun when you need him?”
  • To Stevie Nicks:
    • “That was Fleetwood Wack!”
    • “You’re Steve Nixed!”
    • “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…or singing lessons!

And so on and so on. There are only about three or four contestants an episode that don’t get this kind of treatment, presumably because the judges ran out of bitchy puns with which to dismiss them. So far I’m rooting for either the Roseanne Barr (who I honestly thought might’ve been the real deal, thrown in for a kick) or the Robin Williams dude (who somehow manages to be even more annoying than the actual Robin Williams, which is accomplsihment enough to merit winning a half-dozen game shows). I can’t imagine how they handle later rounds–singing competitions? Stand-up? Script run-throughs? Could be interesting.

And hey, The 4400 starts up again next Sunday. And the first episode of that John from Cincinatti show was pretty cool. Maybe it won’t be a completely barren summer after all.

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