Whether you loved it, hated it, or just enjoyed making fun of it, there's no denying that last week's Sound of Music, Live! television special on NBC drew a lot of attention and some massive ratings. And all of those people watching and live-tweeting have inspired the network to make it an annual holiday tradition. That's right: there will now be a live musical on television every year, for better or for worse. NBC already has a few new productions they're currently circling, and although it's still too early to reveal any clues about what audiences can expect next year, they have promised that they're looking for something that's family-friendly and has enough familiar songs to appease everyone.
With those strict criteria in mind, we've come up with five options for musicals we'd love to see NBC turn into a live television special, and five they should avoid at all costs.
Funny Girl Since it's likely that NBC will turn to some classic movie musicals in order to find inspiration for their next production, we suggest they step away from the obvious choice of My Fair Lady and instead go with Funny Girl, the musical that made Barbra Striesand a household name. There's plenty of familiar songs to catch people's attention and the story will appeal to older audiences who are familiar with the movie, or younger audiences who grew up watching it. If they're interested in enticing a younger audience, all they would have to do is cast Lea Michele, whose Glee character Rachel Berry is currently playing the part, and who is a shoo-in for the lead if the production ever returns to Broadway. Besides, if there's anyone in the world who is set to inherit Streisand's legacy, it's Michele, and this would be the perfect place to establish herself as a mini-Barbra.
Thoroughly Modern MillieAlthough the movie might be less familiar to most audiences than Funny Girl, the musical, which was originally produced in 2002, has become a staple of high school theater departments across the country. This connection would allow the network to draw a younger audience, who are familiar with the production, but the 1920s setting and jazz-age inspired music won't turn off an older audience either. And even though the songs might not be as well-known as the score of The Sound of Music, it's catchy and up-beat enough to stick in your head for weeks afterward. For star power, NBC could go with Sutton Foster, who originated and won a Tony Award for the role when it was on Broadway, as her stint on the beloved but canceled Bunheads would draw a decent sized audience who are eager to see more from Foster.
Wicked Sure, they could choose The Wizard of Oz, which has become part of a holiday tradition for many people already, but let's face it: without Judy Garland, the show's kind of boring. Instead, the network should go with Wicked, which has become somewhat of a modern classic. It's entertaining enough for children, complex enough for adults, and has become a pop culture phenomenon and the biggest hit musical Broadway has seen in quite some time, all of which would translate to massive ratings for NBC. Sure, the set would be a bit complicated, but nothing draws in viewers like the risk of a fly rig malfunctioning live on air. Plus, if the network managed to get Idina Menzel or Kristin Chenoweth to reprise their roles, there's no way anyone would watch anything else that night.
Little Shop of HorrorsThis choice might be a little less family-friendly than some of our other suggestions, but despite the threat of a man-eating plant, Little Shop of Horrors has cross-generational appeal, and its score has the familiarity that NBC is looking for in a musical. The danger and sentient plants will appeal to children, and the story is well known and well-loved by older viewers, so it really wouldn't be as risky for NBC as they might think. Plus, all they would have to do is cast Neil Patrick Harris as Seymour, and the ratings would come flooding in.
Guys and DollsAnother classic that would work for NBC would be Guys and Dolls. Like Millie, it's a staple of theaters across the country, and the score contains songs that have become famous in their own right. This one might be harder to entice a younger audience to watch, as it lacks some of the flashier elements that would keep children entertained, but that could easily be solved by casting Hugh Jackman. Ideally, Jackman would play Sky Masterson, which would allow him to work his charm on both Sarah Brown and the audience, but he could also pull off a fantastic Nathan Detroit — especially if he had a talented, comedic actress to play off of. Perhaps Lauren Graham could reprise her role as Miss Adelaide?
Spring AwakeningYou might think we're crazy for including a rock musical that includes profanity, nudity, suicide, and back-alley abortions, but if NBC decided to appeal to a younger audience, there's a chance they could follow in the footsteps of 90210 and decide to mount a production of Spring Awakening. After all, it was Lea Michele's breakthrough theater role, and if they managed to bring back the original cast — which included Frozen's Jonathan Groff, Skylar Astin from Pitch Perfect, and The Newsroom star John Gallgher Jr. — then high ratings would be guaranteed. But there's no way that a television network would manage to put on this show effectively, since they would have to change about 95 percent of it.
Mary PoppinsWith Saving Mr. Banks hitting theaters soon, NBC might decide to capitalize off of the renewed interested in Mary Poppins and put on the musical next year. While it's a great choice for them, being a much loved film with familiar songs, characters and stories, we don't think it's such a good idea. Firstly, Disney would never grant them the rights, as that would mean handing over massive ratings to a rival network. But, more importantly, if there's one thing we all learned from The Sound of Music it's this: don't ever attempt to recreate a role made famous by Julie Andrews.
AnnieYes, it's a classic, and yes, everyone knows at least two songs from the show and are able to belt them out at the drop of a hat. But do you really want to spend a whole three hours watching precocious children sing and dance on screen while your obnoxious little cousins do the same in your living room, and everyone around you acts like it's the cutest thing they've ever seen even though it's clearly terrible? No, we didn't think so.
The Phantom of the OperaDespite currently being the longest-running show on Broadway, which proves its universal appeal, and the fact that it would look almost as amazing onscreen as it does in the theater, Phantom is a terrible idea for a television special. Why? Because in addition to encouraging plenty of people to romanticize a relationship that consists entirely of stalking and kidnapping, after about two songs, it feels as if you're just listening to a three-hour funeral march. Plus, there are very few people who are both famous enough to draw in an audience and talented enough to sing that score without it being a complete train wreck.
CatsThis year, give your family the gift that keeps on giving: the trauma that results from watching a bunch of adults wearing skintight leotards and face paint crawl around in some moodily-lit garbage cans to a score that it both incredibly boring and obnoxiously catchy. We'll sit this one out, thanks.
We all know that the nuclear family is, for the most part, totally outdated. Sure, some families still consist of a mom, a dad, two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence, blah, blah, blah. If you exclusively watch Nick at Nite, you might think those are the only types of families represented on TV, but you’d be wrong. Television series featuring atypical families have become much more popular — Parenthood and The Fosters for example — and we’re pumped because a white picket fence can only be so interesting. In fact, some of our favorite families on TV are a little less than normal, and they’re more hilarious because of it.
Two ex-wives, a handful of kids, and a new wife that’s closer in age to the kids than her husband — yeah, that’s a bit unusual. The Harrisons are a loving bunch who might have their differences sometimes, but that’s to be expected from a housewife, a surgeon, a lawyer, and a hippie (which sounds like the intro to a bad joke.)
Although not technically a family, Jess, Nick, Winston, Schmidt, and now Coach are close enough that they represent a different kind of family: the friend-family. They’re those people who know you better than your cousins or your grandparents; they’re just as important as blood relatives.
The Pritchetts, the Dunphys, and the Delgado-Pritchetts can be credited with making the atypical family a hilarious TV trend. What’s not to love about this bunch? They’re a little off the wall, but they represent a realistic extended family situation. Plus Modern Family is one of the best comedies on TV right now, so they must be doing something right.
Since delving into Christopher Guest's new television series Family Tree, I have been asked by many a Best in Show and A Mighty Wind fan deprived of an HBO subscription, "Is it hilarious?" And the answer, the unabashed truth, is no. Throughout the seven-episode season, I found myself going full half-hours without more than a laugh or two — and we're talking modest chuckles. Approaching the program with the expectations garnered from years of adoring Guest's uproarious big screen work, I found myself perplexed by the pilot: Are these punchlines supposed to earn more than just a knowing smirk? Are the gags and quirks of these subdued characters meant to stand up against the riotous one-liners of Guest's past work? Perhaps the director was going for something different, something alogether new, with this venture — something that might aptly be defined not only by its comedy but by its drama.
A full season having gone by, I still wonder exactly what Family Tree was going for all this time, whether it meant to identify itself by its laughter or its heart. But this muddled identity notwithstanding, these seven episodes proved that Guest knows precisely how to tell a story. On Sunday night, the chapter closed on star Chris O'Dowd's wayward hero Tom Chadwick, a recently unemployed and newly single 30-year-old Londoner who compenstates for his new void of substantial happiness by investigating his own family tree (an exploit brought on by the passing of a great aunt he barely knew). Having somewhat of a conflicted relationship with his alarmingly eccentric sister Bea (Nina Conti) — who carres a monkey puppet with her at all times through which to speak candidly — and their moreover distant father Keith (Michael McKean), Tom seems to look at family as the "final frontier," after coming up short in the realms of the romantic and the professional.
And so, his journeys take him much farther than he might have anticipated. He discovers his roots in showbiz, a set of unknown second cousins in a rural England town, and — in what seems to be the pay-off to which the first half of the season had been leading — takes a trip to U.S. soil when he finds out about a collection of Chadwicks residing across the pond, dating back to the 1800s.
The latter four episodes have Tom uniting with his American brethren: conspiracy theorist Al (Ed Begley Jr.) and his flighty hippie wife Kitty (Carrie Aizley), an eccentric but good-hearted pair who open their home to their visiting cousin; Civil War reenactor Rick (Matt Greisser) and his incurably blunt girlfriend Julie (Maria Blasucci), who also enjoy their share of clubbing; and oddball Southerner Dave (Guest himself), who suffers from a vestigial tail and hasn't seen his wife in two years. But his journeys do not cease with the Chadwicks — Tom learns, through interracting with his new kinfolk, that he has roots in American Indian and Jewish lineages, eventually coming to meet the equally amicable Schmelff side of the family (which includes the familiar faces of Kevin Pollak and Guest fixture Bob Balaban).
Recalling just how eager each new character is to welcome Tom into his or her life and home offers a new rationale behind what makes Family Tree work so well in the absence of obviously laugh-out-loud comedy, or punch-to-the-gut tearjerker moments. Whereas Tom's plight to find new family could have easily disintegrated into mayhem in the face of unanticipated madness, the quirks and eccentricities of his new relatives are met with the sort of kindly, humorous sensibility that you adopt to approach your own relatives' psychological shortcomings. Everyone that Tom meets, even Rick's didactic historian friend Harvey (Don Lake) who grows frustrated with Tom's irreverence for their Civil War reenactments, is more than happy to help him on his mission, and is just as excited as he about the background and legacy of the Chadwick clan.
Of course, the series takes some pretty standard turns: Tom meets an American girl, Ally (Amy Seimetz), whom he saves from a scuffle via his talents assessing the point of fault in traffic accidents, and becomes smitten with her, as does she with him. In the finale, he pioneers a ribald affection for his sister, warts and all, when he steals back her beloved Monk after it has been apprehended by a stubborn charity worker. These are the "high points" of the show's energy, the explosions of purpose and direction. Otherwise, Family Tree delivers a slight, slow, smooth arc to get Tom over his breakup and layoff, allowing him a new sense of self worth, which he derives from his bloodline adventure. And it's as engaging as it is pleasant.
Its outlying climactic beats aside, the series takes pride in its low energy and its realism, melding that classic Guest nuttiness with some down-to-earth charm. It's not as much a comedy as it is a venerable slice of life — we accompany Tom on his trip, which fits not to any particular storytelling form, but unravels organically as he learns about, contemplates, and experiences these new episodes of his life. So perhaps it isn't a misplaced identity at all, but just one that we don't often see on television: a program that realizes we don't need excess comedy or drama to stuff a story. We just need to be, as the character of Tom is at his core, fascinated with the intrinsically majestic idea of a story itself.
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
S2E19: One of the pleasant things about Modern Family is its simplicity. The plot is never too convoluted in most part because the characters are so grounded and fleshed out that they are able to take such simple premises and run with them. This week’s "The Music Man" had three really basic plots but they worked oh so perfectly. Each plot actually managed to serve every character and find a way to be both heartwarming and hilarious. That’s not an easy feat to pull off and yet Modern Family made it look like it was nothing.
"Pear, brie, and jambone! My favorite!" -Cam
Let’s go ahead and get the main one out of the way first. Cameron makes his triumphant return to teaching the dramatic arts with Luke and Manny’s school play. As Cam is want to do, his heart is in the right place but he turns it to be mostly about himself. He wanted a grand show with flair but even the kids weren’t having it. And as Mithcell is want to do, he tried to slow down Cam’s enthusiasm although Cam mistook it for not “being in his corner.” Thus Mitchell gets super enthusiastic despite the shipwreck on stage. Eventually (after the play turns into a disaster) Cam sees how supportive Mitchell was through the whole thing and awww it was so sweet.
But it was funny too. While Manny was trying to be smooth with his crush, Luke was unknowingly cock-blocking his step-uncle with his awesome T-Rex arms (never thought I would write that sentence). Karma is a fair player though and Luke winds up getting stuck floating through the air during the production. Cam doesn’t seem to mind until Luke says he could feel his heart beating in his eyeballs. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Luke never fails to deliver the best lines. Also we had another perfect example of the trope “If you give a group of kids individual letters to hold up, they will inevitably misspell it into something embarrassing.” The writers didn’t try to stretch the kids too far with this one and their eventual message was fairly inoffensively funny. Fantastic stuff.
"Don’t hit him! He’s got cancer." -Jay
Perhaps the most surprisingly touching story this week was Jay’s. He got a visit from his brother, Donnie, and as brothers are want to do (what is it with me and that phrase this week?) they spend most of the time fighting. Gloria doesn’t understand (of course) and she eventually nags Jay into trying to talk to him. I really wished we could have seen Gloria spout off the names of all her cousins but alas, we’ll just have to live with the four or five we got.
Anyway, Jay learns that his brother has cancer. Jonathan Banks did a fantastic job of brushing it all off as Donnie and it’s always great to see Ed O’Neill show some emotion besides grumpiness. It's such a tender moment when Donnie tells Jay that he knows he cares about him and always has since they were kids when Jay beat up the mook down the street who stole his bike. Brotherly love is a hard thing to capture onscreen and this was the perfect example of how it’s done.
"I guess I’ll be seeing you Wednesdays and every other weekend." -Phil
But the funniest story this week was easily Phil’s new ad for his van. Due to some unfortunate spacing problems, his real estate advertisement became a hooker ad predominantly featuring his wife and eldest daughter. Again, a fairly simple premise for a joke but what sold it was Phil’s attempts at hiding it from her when he realized she hadn’t seen it yet. It was that weird combination of awkward and physical comedy that Ty Burrell has mastered on this show and it was in full force for this story.
Surprisingly though, this plot managed to have a lot of heart to it as well. As Claire tries to persuade Haley on the glories of college she becomes worried that her best years are behind her but when she learns that most of the calls to Phil were soliciting her, she perks up and realizes she still has a few good years ahead of her. You have to hand it to Phil though, he basically made his wife look like a hooker AND STILL managed to make her feel good in the process. Pretty smooth, if I do say so myself. Which I am want to do. (Seriously, what is up with me this week?)