Thursday, December 18, 2014

Season 5 of The Sing-Off: Blink and you missed it

Melodrones from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN became the first collegiate winner of The Sing-Off.

Last night (Wednesday, December 17, 2014), we were treated to a two-hour spectacular Season Opener / Series run / Finale of The Sing-Off, a group a cappella singing competition show. It was Season 5, all compressed into a teeny tiny compact little two-hour time slot on primetime television on NBC.

Six well-chosen extraordinary groups heralding colorful matching uniforms performed amazing vocal acrobatics as they competed for a $50,000 Sony Music Recording Contract.

I felt as if I had been flicking channels and stumbled upon the yearly NCAA Cheerleading competition, coming in at the end and having no clue what had already transpired in order for these particular groups to arrive at the finals. I had no idea who they were. I wasn't given the luxury of getting to know the teams over the course of the season, not even a short one.  I felt as if I had been cheated, as if I'd walked in at the end of an amazing movie, and hoping to find it on Netflix so that I could rewatch it from the beginning, sadly realized that it was not available. I wanted to get to know the team stars and hear their heart wrenching stories of trials and tribulation; find out how they formed their groups and trained for countless exhaustive hours; and watch as they grew as artists over the course of the season in response to the judges' constructive criticisms.

I missed host Nick Lachey's dorky banter with the judges, who each had little time to say much of anything. Though Jewel and Dr. Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men returned, Ben Folds was off on tour somewhere and had to be replaced by Fall Out Boy's lead singer Patrick Stump. Poor Stump didn't even get his photo featured on the NBC website and is shown as a sad looking gray silhouette avatar:

I missed Ben Folds. I missed his dictionary-cracking vocabulary and insightful and intellectually complicated redneck-geek-charm-filled critiques.

Dr. Folds should be happy to hear that he finally got a win for a collegiate a cappella group. He's been rooting for this since Season 1 in 2009 when he helped launch the show with Deke Sharon, Mark Burnett, and Dr. Stockman after recording a college a cappella album. The black and gold Melodores of Vanderbilt University, formed right there in Dr. Folds own back yard of Nashville, Tennessee in 2009 (the same year the Sing-Off debuted), pulled out a win, beating out five exemplary groups.  I would not be at all surprised to see Folds work with the Melodores in the studio or on tour. 

My fear that the show would sink into the over-commercialized world of electronic dance music and auto-tuned vocal bands was dissuaded when the majority of the competing groups happily rejected the use of aids and stuck to the purist form of a cappella: meaning "in the manner of the church," without musical accompaniment.  Only one group, a.squared, took advantage of the newer relaxed restrictions and used a loop machine with a dedicated operator to create a musical backdrop.  In the end, it was all for naught, for they did not advance to the finals. In my opinion, the Sing-Off should return to the previous strict requirements. There's no need to muddy the playing field. 

I hope that like college cheerleading, a cappella competition returns to television next year in some format, perhaps aired on one of NBC's lesser sister networks over the summer, or even under a different name and with a new producer and record company sponsor. The Sing-Off may have lived out its life. However, a cappella will never die.

Show Recap

Jodi Walker wrote a nice recap of the season opener/finale/special for Entertainment Weekly, a la TVgrrrrl style, listing each act and the songs they performed. 

Season 5 Competitors

New Haven, CT
5 member male group, formed from Yale University students, using an electronic loop machine.

The Exchange
Myrtle Beach, SC
5 member male group, formed from various members of other teams who met on the Sing-Off show while competing.

Nashville, TN
14 member male collegiate singing group formed at Vanderbilt University

San Francisco, CA
6 member diverse group, formed to compete on the show.

Timothy's Gift
Nashville, TN
6 member female group, formed as a Christian faith based ministry to perform in prisons.

New York, NY
5 member female group, performing jazz and soul music.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Selfie is fun! It's fresh! It's new! It's exciting!.. It's cancelled :'-(

Henry Higgs (John Cho) and Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) take a selfie on Selfie.

One day while flipping through channels looking for something new and fresh, I stumbled upon the pilot of "Selfie," a half hour show debuting on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 on ABC. I managed to watch a few episodes here and there over the fall season as it grew on me. 

"Well, this is a hit!" I thought to myself, "It's the new Ugly Betty, but a little different."

We have the chattily charming, knows-all-the-good-gossip receptionist Charmonique (Da'Vine Joy Randolph); the extremely popular fashion forward Eliza (Karen Gillan); and instead of an "ugly Betty," we have an "ugly Henry" (John Cho) who Eliza is determined to crack free from his stoney socially awkward shell. Set in Los Angeles, Eliza and Henry work for KinderKare Pharmaceuticals under chairman Sam Saperstein (David Harewood). Eliza is a top salesperson and Henry is a marketing executive. 

The show encompasses all of the fun elements of a meaningless shallow self-contained sitcom, something of an endangered species these days in the sea of reality shows and soap operatic-like nighttime dramas. Actors parade about in a runway of fashions amidst sophisticated sets. There are plenty of references to the current affairs of the celebrity world, as well as heavy usage of real social media as characters take their own cell phone "selfies." Plots revolve around the ordinary everyday affairs most of us face in our own dreary less colorful lives, such as: the fear of speaking in public, getting shamed on social media, wanting to be promoted at work, being bold enough to ask a woman out on a date, and being smart enough to know when your boyfriend just wants you for your body. We haven't seen such fun television entertainment since Alicia Silverstone strolled on screen in "Clueless."

Interesting casting

The icing on the television cake is the excellent acting. The clever casting by Tim Payne and Lisa Ystrom of serious actors who can cross over from drama into comedy is what has created the magical chemistry that truly makes this show work. Though plots contains very light content, the show does not insult the viewer's intelligence.

To name a few: 

Karen Gillan, who previously starred as Amy Pond from 2010 to 2012 on Doctor Who, is entirely convincing as a beautifully shallow and ultra-critical social guru.

John Cho, who we've also seen recently as police officer Andy Brooks in FOX's Sleepy Hollow, plays the sadly serious straight man Henry Higgs who is in dire need of loosening up.

David Harewood, known for his role of David Estes in Homeland, is simply fun in his portrayal of the eccentric and open-minded company boss Sam Saperstein. 

Charmonique (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) gets dressed for her high school reunion with the help of Eliza (Karen Gillan). 

Da'Vine Joy Randolph is far too realistic (in a good way) as the tough-as-nails receptionist Charmonique. Randolph, unlike the others, has been pulled in from the live acting world of Broadway. She was nominated in 2012 for a Tony award for her role as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost the Musical. 

Actor Samm Levine from Freaks and Geeks plays Sam's son-in-law Terrance.

Brian Huskey, who's appeared as "that guy" in nearly everything from the serious House to the parody Children's Hospital, plays Larry, a smart business colleague.

Matty Cardarople, who I did not think I had ever seen in film before, but will now keep my eye on, is the awkward subdued assistant, Charlie. In real life, Matty is looking for a new job now that the show has been cancelled and has published an audition clip reel on twitter where he reveals himself to be the Skittles cloud petter. Ah ha! I have seen him before: Matty's reel

Selfie's premise was marketed as a modern day "My Fair Lady," with lead characters Eliza Dooley named for Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgs for Doolittle's teacher and mentor Henry Higgins. However, the show is less about the cultivation of a socially proper young lady and more about the sexual tensions between the two leads: Eliza and Henry. Other than the pilot episode, it's really more along the lines of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" as Henry attempts to teach Eliza how to care less about herself and more about others. Eliza sees him as her only true friend, and begins to fall in love, one sweet episode at a time. 

For some reason, the show was cancelled by ABC, though due to an organized fan protest, the rest of the first season will continue to air on the paid service Hulu. I hope it continues for another season or two. It's just the kind of fun and nearly meaningless clean fluff we need to relieve viewers from a difficult serious day at the office. 

Is there hope for a Selfie season 2? We shall see. If so, it will most likely appear on another network. If not, I wish all the fine actors and crew the best of luck.