31 August 2008 | galensaysyes
I love it!
I'm in love with this show. Am only two-thirds of the way through, but want to come out and declare my affection before the romance fades, as it probably will when it comes down to the final choice. The odds are that my favorite will be someone other than the show's, and then things will be over between us. But like all love affairs, this one is emotionally gratifying while the bloom is on.
Several websites report that this show has had a rough passage in the ratings. Probably it's too nice for these times: it's like the Mouseketeers brought up to date for a (somewhat) more grown-up audience. I haven't checked out the reactions in blogs and forums because so much of what appears in them is adolescent slogging by post-adolescents and I don't care to have my enjoyment of the show trampled on. And that enjoyment is great. The kids' highs make me feel good, their lows make me want to jump in and straighten things out for them. What more could one want? Of all the talent contests on TV, this one is my favorite. The judges aren't mean, the contestants' talent is real, and the sweetness of their voices and personalities make their performances--the trials by which they're _eliminated_--stageworthy in themselves. The semifinals were performed before crowds at Disney theme parks, and made for a better show than you usually see there. The kids were paired up for pretty duets (especially pretty were those by T. J. and Shayna, James and the girl with the name I never remember that starts with T and who I always want to call Tegan because she reminds me of Tegan on Doctor Who, and Ether and a Hispanic girl who looked like she would go on to the finals but didn't). With the show-business hook of who will make it and who won't, and the inspiriting performances, the series itself has turned into a lively, upbeat teen musical.
It's similarly positive on the reality-show side: little sturm und drang, lots of little epiphany-bytes, and kind treatment by the camera and the cutting room. When the show is at its most perceptive, it's also at its most discreet. For instance, in the one big dramatic crisis to date (or the closest thing to a crisis that has arisen in this amiable context), princessy girl learned that fat boy had complained about her wanting to be the center of attention (pot, meet kettle). He later apologized, nicely, and she forgave him, nicely. But what the show never referred back to, but had shown us earlier, was a scene of him watching her wistfully as she bestowed all her attention on another boy--and the next thing we knew, he was talking about how it bothered him that she didn't have the right attitude and wasn't trying to get to know _everybody_, to learn from them: an altruistic concern. None of the other kids saw the feeling behind it, or if they did were nice enough not to say; and so was the show. It's things like this that make me warm to it.
The kids may not be as likable as they seem--I don't know how anybody could be--but they're likable enough to convince me they are. And they're generous toward each other, like kids are who can afford to be; even the princessy girl is princessy in the nicest way. Most feel-good shows don't make me feel good; this one does, because of them.
Also, there's less padding and repetition than is usual in reality shows. The judges' assessments are sound bytes rather than prolonged belaboring of their points. For my part, I wouldn't have minded hearing a little more of what they have to say, since they seem to know what they're talking about.
Only a couple of doubts niggle at the back of my mind. I was ready to forgive the one class assignment/musical number that flopped, an intended homage to old-time TV (that is, old-time by the kids' definition: 70s and 80s) where you couldn't even figure out who the kids were supposed to be dressed up as. But I don't understand why, in the numbers, some of the shots look lip-synched, and some of the voices sound like they were run through a mixer. A few times, the judges have criticized one of the kids' singing, and I doubt that the critiques were faked. I choose to believe that after the first performance, the performers restage it so the camera can pick up shots it couldn't get the first time without blocking our view, and that the vocals are sweetened by the sound engineers in the lab.
Then there's the prize itself. The winner won't really Get in the Picture (High School Musical 3), but into a video that will be playing behind the end credits. Like in one of those tiny little boxes that TV stations shrink credits to while they flash ads for their other shows? Will this video be seen by anybody? For myself, I'd rather Disney starred all these kids in a show of their own--a cheery, heartwarming musical drama about a dozen aspiring young singers: Fame Lite.
Wait a minute!--they just did.
Afterword: When I saw this show I hadn't seen the HSM movies and took them at the show's estimation of them as the entertainment phenomenon of the age; I have since seen both. They're movies for little children! Bad movies! Saved by the Bell crossed with Beach Party--and not _that_ good. The kids on this show were more attractive, and their performances more entertaining, than what they were longing to become a piece of a piece of. Their veneration of it, and of anybody connected with it, betokens a belief system so weirdly contrary to reality that knowledge of it would have prevented my taking their contest seriously for a second. I was lucky to be ignorant.
...High School Musical!?!?