Saturday, November 29, 2008
Rosie O'Donnell's Variety Not What We Expected
The word came out a few months ago that Rosie O'Donnell got the green light from NBC to bring back an old time Burnett style variety show. My mind filled with nostalgia. Carol Burnett was and is my idol in the genre, and the notion of funny written sketches with guest stars, mixed with goofy staged musical numbers al-la Sonny and Cher, or Donny and Marie had me riled up for a visit to the past in the modern day. But what we witnessed on Wednesday night's premiere was vaudeville - more of a nod to Ed Sullivan than Burnett, the Osmonds or the Bonos. Was America ready for such a show, promoted with the promise of skits and Bob Mackie type style, only to be given a watered down menopausal version of what Sullivan did fifty years ago? Not really. This wasn't the bag of goods I was promised.
Rosie was The Master of Ceremonies for a line up of friends and foes alike. Foes didn't appear in person, but Donald Trump's and Nancy Grace's names were invoked with the inevitable farcical dig. The allies who did show were Alec Baldwin, Harry Connick Jr., Gloria Estefan alongside surprise guests Conan O'Brien - who took a pie to the face and nothing else, Alanis Morrissette warbled and enunciated a song with her lazy "s" hushes, and Rachael Ray clomped on stage holding a giant plastic turkey. Although unintentional, the symbolism did not go unnoticed.
Children tap dancing, product giveaways sung through a striptease routine by Jane Krakowski, all in one were just a mess. Sullivan was a master at this, but his program was more a showcase than variety. Where were the sets, the wardrobe, the sketches with story lines? Seeing her friends yukking it up, or talking into her cleavage in between stints by a hula hoop spinning troupe, or the dual foot tapping Lumbar Brothers is not what I expected from this kind of show. The self indulgence was palpable. This was everything Rosie loves: the cloying cute Broadway kids, the giveaways, the big dance numbers. Seeing Liza Minnelli was fun, but she was actually out sung by Rosie's large vocals, drowning out the legend as she sat on big momma's knee.
Everything was a tribute to Rosie's world of mediocre, commercially manufactured, easily digestible entertainment with no complexity or edginess. This is the art that moves her. Slate.com nailed it in an article posted several years back: "She celebrates crap. She has an incredibly narrow view of the universe: popular television, Broadway schlock, mainstream movies, sappy pop balladeers." Never was this so evident as in Wednesday night's pre-Thanksgiving fiasco.
I've enjoyed O'Donnell in the past. Although I've never been a fan of the entertainment she promotes, I've admired her humor and honesty. But if I have to see more dancing layed cakes and a theater full of people getting bags of expensive crap again from Rosie, I'll be turning the channel. It's my sense that she needs to understand what the audience outside the studio or venue wants - not just what floats her boat and is applauded by those in her presence.
Between the vaudeville and the cute kids, the give aways and dancing food, "Rosie Live" was a lesson in how not to bring back the old genre to prime time, daytime, late night - or any time. The show that premiered on Wednesday night was to turn into a weekly variety hour. However, it garnered low ratings and some bad reviews. In fact, the premiere was the finale. "Rosie Live" will not continue. Mercifully.