Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sunday Morning Looking Back: Celebrity Circus on TV: A Big Top To Nowhwere

First published June 19, 2008 [has it been that long?]

TV Review: NBC Celebrity Circus.

Pardon my naivete, but can celebrity and bare taut flesh alone carry a television show woefully lacking in real talent? Ooops, that's right, there was that episode of Survivor that I couldn't take my eyes off of ...

Second question: What is a judge to do when there is nothing to judge? That’s the dilemma faced by three "experts" recruited to adjudicate NBC’s glitzy Celebrity Circus, in which assorted star names from sports to film pretend to be performing real circus acts. Pretend is the operative word.

How to, indeed. Do you accept veiled bribes from the producers and fake being swept away? Memorize pre-scripted reactions? Agree to be paid per adjective uttered --“fabulous!” and “absolutely fantastic!” getting you another thousand dollars each time you toss them out?

In fact, given the program's glaring shortcomings, it would appear that our panel of experts have been placed in the unwitting role of cheer leaders in order to support a desperate illusion that something worth really really watching is really really happening. I waited for the end of each plodding act to see what and how they would gush. Cheerleader-in-Chief, Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord, gushes the best, he really really does. Says things like “The whole package!” Hmmm, was he referring to the strange crotch catching on fire incident?

And, oh, how I wished I was sitting next to judge Louie Spence, by profession a dancer and choreographer, whose hyper reactions made me wonder if somebody had slipped into his pink lemonade a dose of Viagra. What fun it would have been driving him crazy with my contrary views, driving him to dizzier, frizzier heights of the irrational exuberance that makes him perhaps the show's most amusing asset. We might have given Celebrity Circus critical relief -- that is, were I not thrown out first during the next commercial break and sent packing to the Greyhound bus depot for a shamed exit back to Oakland.

To be reasonably fair — short of assigning scores for anatomy alone or dates promised me by the contestants — I decided to judge these eager participants against my general impression of the entry level skills competently exhibited at Circus Osario, which I saw a few weeks ago.

Only one of the judges has a circus background, and she is Aurelia Cata, an aerialist who is said to have critiqued circus festivals abroad. What irony that it should be her of all people to slight, inexplicably, by far the evening’s most, in fact, only accomplished performance — gold medal swimmer Janet Evans (left) working the “flying silks” (another precious term for bed sheets).

Really, how much can we expect from such an impractical premise? They tried it years ago, and it was probably more fun. Now it is so deadly serious. “More danger! More fear! More drama! No safety net!” And so humorless.

Asking anybody off the street to spend a month or two becoming a viable ring star is a bit of a stretch. Here are the grateful ordinals awarded each act by the judges, followed by my own less grateful marks, each preceded by an asterisk (*)

Stacy Dash (silks, labored): 9-9-9 -- *5

Arturo Sabato (hunk equilibristics, shaky, wobbly): 8-8-8 -- *4

Janet Evans (ribbons, the one act that truly engaged me -- with effort, she could make it under a real big top) : 7-8-7 -- *7

Christopher Knight (clown on fire, crotch ablaze, pointlessly bizarre): 7-7-7 -- *4

Wee Man (German wheel, pathetic): 4-6-4 -- *1-

Rachell Hunter (blue hammock, bulky, clumsy): 7-8-7 -- *3

Why have I no desire to see another episode of Celebrity Circus? Not only the shaky executions, but for a stifling air of earnestness; they try so hard for the Cirque du Soleil mystique and fall so embarrassingly short of the mark. Worse yet, none of it matters in real life, because these moonlighting celebrities have no intent of taking their new found skills anywhere — unlike the genuinely gifted singers and dancers by the dozens who make "American Idol" and its spin offs so much more enjoyable to watch. You want to see real ambitious young circus performers striving to make it? Watch America's Got Talent. Or maybe The Gong Show.

I’m really really out of this tent.

From 6.19.08

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