Carrie: The Musical

Recently, Riverdale, the CW’s edgy take on the Archie Comics characters, explored that time-honoured trope of the “musical episode”. Most musical episodes tend to either present original songs, well-known covers or Broadway standards (or sometimes a mix of all three). But those kids from Riverdale High always like to shake things up, so for an episode revolving around the annual high school musical, which production did they choose to mount? Only a show inspired by one of the biggest, most infamous Broadway flops of all time – Carrie: The Musical.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Broadway’s Carrie, but are familiar with the works of Stephen King, then the first thing that popped into your mind is correct. Once upon a time, some people convinced some other people that if they took Stephen King’s horror novel about a telekinetic teen who gets bloody revenge on her tyrannical mother and tormenting peers and turned it into a full-blown musical, it would be the biggest thing to hit Broadway. And soon they had millions of dollars invested in their ambitious nightmare.

How was it a nightmare?  

Here’s a quick “highlight reel” of the ill-fated initial run of Carrie:

  • Workshopped in 1984, announced for Broadway in 1986, funding not raised until 1987, finally mounted in 1988.
  • A four-week trial run in Stratford-upon-Avon receives mixed reviews, show undergoes numerous script revisions and is plagued by technical problems.
  • Barbara Cook (playing Carrie’s mother, Margaret White), after almost being decapitated by a set piece on opening night, announces she’s quitting the show and only stays on until the end the trial run.
  • Carrie moves to Broadway with a then-outrageous (and still hefty today) price tag of $8 million dollars. Betty Buckley replaces Barbara Cook and the show begins previews (of which there will be 16).
  • Throughout previews the show is met with equal parts cheers and jeers, receiving standing ovations for Buckley and star Linzi Hateley some nights, “boos” and hoots on others—and sometimes a combination of both.
  • Opening night is well-received but the reviews are devastating, prompting the financial backers to cut their losses and withdraw their support. Even though the initial shows were selling out, Carrie closes after only 5 official performances, cementing its place in Broadway flop infamy (so much so, that Ken Mandelbaum titled his definitive history of Broadway flops Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops)

So, what made it so disastrous? 

You could cite many reasons: inconsistency in theme, varying quality of material or that the special effects ran from cheesy (a “Disney Princess” moment where Carrie’s telekinesis-powered hairbrush and hand mirror swirl about her) to ineffective (the climatic pig’s blood dousing scene goes from being delivered via a rope-pulled bucket high in the rafters to Chris just tossing the bucket of blood in Carrie’s face, like she’s PETA’s Public Enemy #1) to dangerously unsafe (did we mention how Barbara Cook was almost decapitated?).

The original production can be viewed in bits and pieces in all its low-res glory on the internet, and from what I could tell, confounding set design and questionable costume choices and characterization were a big part of the problem. The novel and the subsequent movie starring Sissy Spacek both served up depictions of typical 1970s teens – how they talked, how they acted, how they dressed. However, the teen scene in Broadway’s Carrie is presented like some avant-garde take on an 80s teen flick wrapped within a gothic jazzercise fever dream.

For example, one moment the high school teens are singing and dancing in a very Bye Bye Birdie-esque set up at a drive-in movie. Next, they’re all geared up in head-to-toe spandex and leather, slinking and gyrating around in the darkness of an underground afterhours club. As one does. When you’re in high school.

 

However, there are some redeeming qualities – the performances were strong and some of the musical numbers at their core were very good (the bare-bones workshopped recording of “Do Me A Favour”, profiled by Broadway deconstruction master Seth Rudetsky here, is so much better than the oh-so-80s synthed version that eventually made it into the actual production (see above), but ultimately, they were brought down by the problems with the overall production.

Back from the dead 

Turns out many people still saw the promise in Carrie, and were convinced she could rise from the grave and be redeemed. And in 2012 that’s exactly what happened when a revamped Off-Broadway production was mounted. With a handful of new songs and a more traditional staging and styling (welcome back, normal-looking teens!), this new version—Carrie: The Musical—was given a welcome reception during its limited run, garnering 5 Drama Desk Award nominations in the process. Redemption at last.

And it’s this version that the gang from Riverdale mounts, 70s-style, for the Spring musical (and really, if there ever was a more appropriate musical for Riverdale to do, I’ve never heard of it). But choosing the better Carrie doesn’t prevent it from being a disaster (minor spoiler alert if you’re behind on Riverdale).

While the high school’s production is tight and it doesn’t get slayed by the critics, Midge, the production’s understudy-made-star, unfortunately does get slayed—by the Black Hood killer. Which is dramatically revealed center stage when the spotlight shines on her bloody, crucified corpse.

Alas, poor Carrie White—even fictional productions of her musical quickly get the ax one way or another.

 

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A Tale Of Two DYNASTYs

With Nicollette Sheridan’s sly entrance as Alexis in episode 16 of the CW’s Dynasty redux, all the major players of the original series are now in place. Therefore, I thought it would be the perfect time to do a little comparison to see just what changes have been made to the line-up and storyline of the original 80s version to make them more relevant to the world of the 2010s.

What makes these two versions great for comparison is that the new Dynasty isn’t a continuation or reboot of the original. It’s a straight-up remake that, so far, has pretty much followed the trajectory and hit the same major plot beats of the original (although not without adding some original tweaks of its own—as any good remake should!), so…let’s dig in!

 

THEN (Blake, Krystle, Fallon)

Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) oversees his oil empire, Denver Carrington, from his 48-room Colorado mansion. He marries his second, and much younger, wife Krystle Jennings (Linda Evans). His former secretary, Krystle finds it hard to fit in the opulent world of the Carringtons. Also living at the mansion is Blake’s daughter, Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin). Headstrong and spirited, Fallon has no interest in following in her dad’s footsteps (although she eventually ends up running his La Mirage resort for a while).

NOW (Blake, Cristal, Fallon)

Blake Carrington (Grant Show),  oversees his global energy empire, Carrington Atlantic from its headquarters in Atlanta. His younger, second wife is Cristal Flores (Nathalie Kelley), a Venezuelan who works for Carrington Atlantic. But instead of leaving her job after they marry, she gets promoted—to COO. This does not sit will with Blake’s ambitious daughter, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies), who had her eyes on that position. She eventually decides to leave Carrington Atlantic to start her own energy company, Morell Corp.

THEN (Steven, Sammy Jo, Alexis, Culhane)

Perpetually confused about his sexuality, Blake’s son Steven (Al Corley) mourns the death of his boyfriend by hooking up with Krystle’s niece, Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear)—who had basically moved herself into the Carrington mansion. They eventually wed and have a son, but divorce soon after. Alexis (Joan Collins), Fallon and Steven’s mother, has been out of their lives ever since she and Blake divorced. Suddenly, she swoops back into Denver when she is named as witness for the prosecution—in the trying of Blake for the murder of Ted (Steven’s aforementioned boyfriend). Michael Culhane (Wayne Northrup) is the Carrington’s chauffer, who also includes bedding Fallon among his driverly duties.

NOW (Steven, Sam, Alexis, Culhane)

Steven (James Mackay) is among other things, a confident gay man, an activist, a former drug addict, and is also in love with Sammy Jo (Rafael de la Fuente), who this time around is Cristal’s nephew, also from Venezuela. Sam also sets up house at the Carrington manse, much to the chagrin of practically everyone there except Cristal. Alexis (Nicollette Sheridan), the former Mrs. Blake Carrington, swoops back into Atlanta to attend the funeral of Blake’s father, after being driven out by Blake years earlier so he could keep custody of Fallon and Steven after their divorce. Michael Culhane (Robert Christopher Riley) is the Carrington’s chauffer who breaks off his years-long affair with Fallon when he’s tired of just being her plaything.

THEN (Jeff, Monica, Cecil)

ColbyCo is Denver Carrington’s business rival.  Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner) runs the show while son Jeff Colby (John James) is a junior executive who falls in love with Fallon (and would eventually marry and have a son with her). Monica Colby (Tracy Scoggins) is Jeff’s cousin from California (who was not an original Dynasty character, since she was created for its spin-off, The Colbys, some 5 years after Dynasty originally premiered). Jeff and Monica are eventually revealed to be half-siblings when it is discovered that her father (Cecil’s brother, Jason) also fathered Jeff as a result of an affair with his mother.

NOW (Jeff, Monica, Cecil)

Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke) is a self-made billionaire who runs ColbyCo and a variety of other holdings in Atlanta and elsewhere. He becomes partners with Fallon in her Morell Corp company and starts to pursue her romantically. His sister Monica (Wakeema Hollis) is Fallon’s BFF from high school and she eventually takes up with Culhane while Jeff and Fallon get more involved professionally and personally. But all is not rosy, as its revealed to be Jeff`s scheme to marry Fallon so he can take down Blake and Carrington Atlantic from the inside. Jeff believes Blake framed his father Cecil (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) for a crime he didn’t commit, which resulted in their father being taken away from Jeff and Monica and incarcerated for the past 11 years.

So there’s your general player-by-player comparison. Pretty interesting to see what’s the same and what’s changed—and how it’s been changed (including some big and welcome strides for diversity). But perhaps the most welcome thing about the new Dynasty is the most-honoured of all traditions that it has upheld. The catfights.

From the lily pond lashing of the old to the Christmas tree crashing of the new, Dynasty then and now always delivers the goods.

Sick Leave

After returning from a much-needed vacation, I got slammed by an end-of-winter cold. And try as I might, my runny-nosed self is just not up to coughing and sneezing my way through this month’s post. So in it’s stead, allow me to present the spirit animal of cold sufferers everywhere, Sick Monica Gellar (Courteney Cox).

Stay healthy, everyone!

 

Entertainment High Points of 2017

I don’t consume nearly enough content of any one form of entertainment to properly do a 2017 “Top 10” for it. However, I do consume enough content across all forms of entertainment to compile a list of those that were some of the definite high points of 2017…and here they are.

Wonder Woman 

She came, she saw, and she conquered. Three movies in, and DC Entertainment’s attempt to grab a piece of the cinematic universe pie that Marvel has been gorging on for close to a decade now was still less than well-received by both fans and critics. The dour, gritty and grim DC “extended universe” trifecta of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad did well enough at the box office, but weren’t getting movie-goers hyped up to see any more doom-and-gloom adventures from their favourite DC icons. Enter Diana of Themyscria—princess of the Amazons, in a tale filled of hope, triumph, and yes, wonder (not to mention one that was far removed from the era of previous DCEU films, by about nearly 100 years). Gal Godot brought charisma, honesty, strength and humour to her portrayal of the Amazing Amazon and the world responded. With a global take higher than even the most optimistic predictions ($821 million), Wonder Woman bested all other DCEU films at the box office, including the surprisingly under-performing, Justice League (which exceeded meager expectations and deserved better than to have made less than Suicide Squad).

Will & Grace 

When rebooting a series, the key to capturing the magic of the original is simple: Don’t change a thing. Will & Grace reappeared after an 11-year absence and it was like they’ve just been here all along. Welcome back, gang.

Dynasty 

File this remake under “guilty pleasures”. The 80s smash that brought to the masses shoulder pads, catfights and royal wedding massacres well before Game of Thrones, was given a fresh start with this deliciously enjoyable CW makeover. Still focusing on the uber-rich Carrington clan, the action has moved from Denver to Atlanta, the cast is more diverse, and mogul Blake Carrington is now years away from becoming a silver fox (but is still a fox nonetheless, as he’s played by Melrose Place alum, Grant Show). Unfortunately, it’s ratings have it languishing near the bottom of CW’s current roster. Here’s hoping Nicolette Sheridan will help pull in some more viewers when she arrives on the scene as the new Alexis (aka the role that shot Joan Collins into the celebrity stratosphere).

Astonishing X-Men 

Years ago, Marvel was miffed that they didn’t own the film rights for the X-Men and Fantastic Four (which they sold when they were in the throes of bankruptcy) and decided if they can’t play with their toys on the big screen, then they aren’t going to play with them at all. They effectively slid the X-Men and Fantastic Four to the back burners of the Marvel Universe while they tried upping the profiles of their lesser-known, but wholly-owned entities (namely, The Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy). So, it was a bit of a surprise when they recently re-launched their mutant comic book line-up with 8 new titles. The line-up is a mixed bag in both quality and content, but the clear standout is Astonishing X-Men.  This 12-issue limited series is a welcome return to form that features a classic, throwback cast consisting of Rogue, Psylocke, Gambit, Archangel and Bishop (along with wild cards Fantomex, Mystique and Old Man Logan) who join forces with their deceased mentor Charles Xavier to wage battle in the otherworldly realm of the Shadow King, with nothing less than the fate of the whole world as we know it at stake (or in other words, just another Tuesday in the MU).

“Bad Liar” – Selena Gomez 

I’ve been pretty indifferent when it comes to the musical output of Selena Gomez. It’s there, I don’t mind it, but I’m certainly not going out of my way to listen to any of it. That all changed with “Bad Liar”. Mature and hypnotic, this brought a new side of Gomez to the forefront – I had actually heard it a few times before finding out it was her, and was pleasantly surprised when I did. The only drawback? The accompanying 70s suburbia slice-of-life video, which places Selena in multiple roles that range from sublime (her ultra Farrah-esque gym teacher is a joy to watch) to downright skeevy (babyfaced Selena in full crotch-grabbing male drag, porn-stache and all, is just unconvincing and unsettling). Thankfully, the music has enough merit to stand on its own.

Now before I wrap this up, I’d like to give a shout-out to a couple of podcasts. While both of these actually premiered prior to 2017, they nonetheless brought such joy to me throughout this year that they couldn’t go unmentioned.

Who? Weekly 

Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber keeps the chuckles coming with this twice-a-week podcast where they dish about the pseudo-famous (and Rita Ora) by giving you “everything you need to know about the celebrities you don’t”.

Bitch Sesh 

Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider’s humourous podcast where they, along with a bevy of brilliant guests, examine all things Real Housewives (with a hilarious helping of all things Casey and Danielle as well).

And now for my highest high point of 2017…

“Cut To The Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen 

It’s an injustice that Jepsen’s post-“Call Me Maybe” output hasn’t been embraced even half as much as her career-making #1 smash (although I place a big part of that blame on the video for what should have been the big hit lead single off her sophomore album. Having Tom Hanks lip-sync nearly the entirety of “I Really Like You” while riding in a cab and doing other mundane things is definitely not something that encourages multiple views on YouTube). However, this track, originally left off said sophomore album only to find a home in Leap!, the little-seen animated ballerina flick featuring the voice of C-Rae Jeps herself, is something that demands attention. Energetic, exuberant and contagious, it was the perfect counterpoint to all the things that made you go “ugh” in 2017.

 

Happy New Year everyone!

Having a Revival

We’ve had the remakes, reboots and reimaginings. The hot “re” trend in entertainment this year is the one making all the buzz over in Television: revivals. And really, it’s funny that it took so long to catch on, because when you look all the other “re” formats, the goal has been the same (trying to capture, capitalize on, or remind people of what made the original such hits),  so what took everyone so long to just forget about trying to build a new one and just bringing back the original instead?

Well, while there has been the occasional revival popping up here or there over the past decade, there needed to be one that was significant enough, successful enough to spur it into the next big trend.

And that something happened in early 2016, when FOX brought back one of its most successful, iconic series ever –  The X-Files – for a 6-episode 10th season. Coming almost 15 years after it ended its 9-season run and nearly 8 years since the last appearance of its co-stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dan Scully (in the second X-Files film, 2008’s Fight the Future), the revival was a ratings bonanza. Plans were made for an 11th season (which will launch in 2018 with 10 episodes), and suddenly nostalgia was big in the network boardrooms. Now, in 2017 we know what made the short list for the first wave of revivals – so let’s take a look at where we are, and just what kind of revivals we’re dealing with, shall we?

The “Be Careful What You Wish For” Revival

Twin Peaks
Original Run: 1990 -1991 (2 Seasons)

The return of Twin Peaks after over 25 years had fans and media alike all abuzz, not only because of the groundbreaking nature of  the David Lynch/Mark Frost series, but  because the original left so many loose ends and had ended on a killer of a cliffhanger, with FBI  Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) seemingly possessed by the malevolent BOB, the entity responsible for the death of teen queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) that kicked off the series proper.

Everyone was eager to return to that serene yet unsettling Pacific Northwest hamlet and revisit the admirable and eager Dale Cooper, catch up with fan fave characters like Audrey Horne and to finally get some answers. Unfortunately…

Praised by many for what it was (ambitious, audacious, engrossing), Twin Peaks Season 3 still disappointed many in what it wasn’t. Specifically, it wasn’t a show mainly set in Twin Peaks and it didn’t showcase star Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper  (which I would think would be the two “givens” in reviving a show such as this – y’know, setting it in the title town and featuring it’s one true lead character). Instead we got:

  • A season that spent a lot of time in Las Vegas and South Dakota (along with New York and various other cities, big and small)  with only the occasional detour back to Twin Peaks – not counting  the regular closing credits run at the most happening music venue in the Pacific Northwest, The Roundhouse.
  • Kyle MacLachlan as bona-fide Dale Cooper for a total of only 3 episodes. Out of 18.  Appearing as his evil doppelganger Mr. C was fine and necessary. But instead of having that turn balanced out with our guy Coop, we had to endure over a dozen episodes of MacLachlan as Cooper’s shuffling, infuriating, barely functioning simpleton doppelganger, Dougie Jones. It’s the kind of thing that can make you turn on a show pretty quick.
  • New characters favoured over old characters. No offense to Naomi Watts, but when Lynch decides that the wife of Dougie Jones deserves substantial screen time and a nice character arc across the whole season but then doesn’t bring in our beloved Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) until episode 13 and then only  gives her a couple of ambiguous scenes that leave us more concerned rather than content, you can’t help but feel Lynch is personally trying to punish us for something.
  • So many drawn-out, lingering shots. Twin Peaks Season 3 got upped to 18 episodes at Lynch’s request early in the game. And this is one time I wish a network would have put their foot down with an auteur, because in those 18 episodes, the amount of time spent on silent lingering shots of inaction or silence (to the point where it felt like Lynch was just trolling the audience) could easily have been edited out to leave a nice, tight dozen eps.

And then, in the end, we got Dale Cooper back, we kinda got Laura Palmer back, but then we were left with even more questions (SO many questions), more loose ends, more cliffhangers and no indication at all when or even if we’ll get a Season 4 to provide any sort of closure…to anything. *SIGH*

The “Sure, Why Not?” Revival (aka The “Why Fix It If It Ain’t Broken?” Revival)

Will & Grace
Original run: 1998-2006 (8 seasons)

After a reunion “get out and vote” mini-episode became a viral hit late last year, the rumour of a revival of everyone’s favourite gays n’ gals sitcom quickly started making the rounds.

Soon, all four stars (Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes) announced they were game to come back, and it was on. An unofficial mission statement also let it be known that this was going to be exactly the Will & Grace you remember, just 11 years later (even going so far as to brush off the original finale’s downer of a flash-forward as just a bad dream of Karen’s). Buzz was so positive it was already renewed for a 10th season before season 9 even had it’s premiere.  But no worries there, because the return of Will & Grace was exactly what had been promised and they were rewarded for it by giving NBC it’s highest rating for a Thursday night comedy in 10 years.

The “Unsure How To Feel About This” Revival

Roseanne
Original run: 1988-1997 (9 seasons)

Almost three decades ago, Roseanne brought new life to the sitcom family genre by depicting a more realistic tv family than was currently popular (see: The Cosby Show). Everyone remembers how the show introduced us to Roseanne and Dan Conner (Roseanne Barr and John Goodman), their three kids, their perpetually messy house and how even though they struggled to make ends meet, they still found time to love and laugh (and insult and tease and torment).

But what many people fail to remember (or have blocked from their mind) was how off-the-rails it went in its later seasons, culminating in a truly bonkers 9th season where the Conners won the Megaball lottery and then went on to have all sorts of surreal adventures. Then, in the series finale, the whole season, and plenty of the whole series in general just got brushed away in a voice over, with Roseanne narrating that everything we had witnessesd over the years was her retelling of her family history for a book she was writing – but it was a history she had twisted and skewed as a way for her to “deal” with it.  So, now, in a voice over, she casually mentions that certain characters’ relationships, professions and even sexual orientations were actually different from what we had come to know all these years. And also, Dan was dead due to the heart attack he was depicted as surviving in season 8.

So yeah, I’m not getting my hopes up too high for this one – but they have managed to wrangle the majority of the cast back, so it looks like we might get another bad dream explanation coming up to explain the resurrection of Dan Conner.

The “No Way, You Are NOT  A Revival” Revival

American Idol
Original Run: doesn’t matter

AI, you do NOT get to call yourself a revival. You are a network shuffle series – a series that shopped itself out to other networks after being cancelled by its former network. You “went dark” for a ONE season – current shows have gone on hiatus for longer – so, I’m sorry (not sorry) but you do not get to jump on the buzzy revival bandwagon.

The Battle of the Network Stars 2017 Breakdown: Part 2

So, as we return to my “Battle” breakdown, I have some problems involving the teams.

Actually, I can deal with the problem I have with the team size (five just isn’t enough for the “marquee events” – even just one more person on each team would’ve made a huge difference) and I can put aside my issues with the team set-ups and how there’s no way to get invested with a team made up of random TV stars from across four decades, loosely grouped together as “TV Kids” or “TV Sitcoms”; especially after seeing how ABC squandered the potential of making teams based around one or two shows (I mean, they got 4 Pretty Little Liars castmates – they couldn’t have found just one more? And they unearthed both Jeremey Miller and Tracey Gold of 80s Growing Pains fame, yet Tracey was on Team TV Sitcoms in episode 1 and Jeremy was Team TV Kids, episode 6). But here’s my other team-related issue – and this ties into a big problem for the new BOTNS from a competition standpoint: the number of teams per battle and how they’re scored.

The original BOTNS had 3 teams, and each event was worth 100, 75, and 50 points for 1st 2nd and 3rd. The first 7 events were basically done to determine which two teams would advance to final event worth 100 points to the winner only – the Tug of War. This worked with three teams because the standard point system generally ensured that the top two teams would be less than 100 points apart. Only one occasion, though ABC had such a commanding lead that after the winning running relay they were 125 points ahead, so even if the lost the Tug of War, they would still win overall. So in that case, the Tug of War still went on, but it became a battle for 2nd place between NBC and CBS (remember as I mentioned previously, each celeb was playing for prize money and though the payout fluctuated at times, the difference between places at this time was a cool $5,000 per celeb).

Random teams at its finest. Seeing grandpa Jimmie Walker on a “TV Kids” team just seems all kinds of wrong

The new BTONS has a more complicated system in play, and it doesn’t hold up at all. Events range from awarding 1 point to 5 points, but without any consistency. Some events will give 1 point to the overall winner, but then other events will give both teams the opportunity to earn points – making it possible to have both teams earn the same number of points, therefore not changing the standing at all. Case in point: in the original Obstacle Course event, there was one overall winner, based on which team had the fastest combined time of their top male and top female competitors. The new Obstacle Course awards 5 points to a men’s winner and 5 to a women’s winner, meaning the teams can easily end up winning 5 points each and thereby not affect the overall standing of each team at all.

And then from nowhere the Tug of War rears its head with a 10 point pay-off. Now here’s the thing: I don’t think the producers noticed until things were underway just how poorly the score system was thought out – and were so intent on bringing back the classic Tug of War, that they didn’t realize that when you have a Tug of War as the final, all-deciding event in a competition between two teams, you’ve just rendered everything up to that point as meaningless. There’s no qualifying or eliminating done during the previous Battle events, and the Tug’s point total all but ensures that no matter how much a team is lagging throughout the day, if they can win the Tug they’ll win the Battle – unless one team is just so phenomenally better than the other that they will have 10+ lead if they win the Obstacle Course – and if that’s about to happen, you might just have to rig it so the Tug of War remains relevant.

Man, if it wasn’t for that flat, obstruction-free surface, he totally would’ve made it to the finish line first

And I think that may have already happened, because FAR too many celebs from the leading team have forgotten how their legs work in the final stretch of the Obstacle Course and inexplicably stumble, trip, fall and crawl until the other team passes them and wins the event, leaving it up to a Tug-Off to decide the winner.

And this leads into our next problem. In the original, the teams of 8 had to pick a 5-person Tug team who had a combined weight not exceeding 800lbs. This kept it as balanced a match up as it could be.

Now, with only 5 people on each team, everyone is in the Tug regardless of how unbalanced the weight ratio is. So what happens then is you get a team with Bronson Pinchot, Dave Coulier and Tom Arnold, all hovering around 200lbs each, tugging against a team with male lean machines like Joey Lawrence and Corbin Bleu who probably weigh less than their female teammates (in this case, Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields) and it’s game over. Forget athletic ability, because a team that loses the majority of events can still win the whole Battle if they can just sit on their collective fat asses and wait for the other team to exhaust themselves trying to move them. *SIGH*

Team Tootie never stood a chance tugging against Team Tubby

So to sum up, we’ve got no spectators, random teams, screwed up scoring, pointless events and a very lopsided finale where weight can trump ability. *DOUBLE SIGH*

BUT, disgruntled as I was about all this, something happened during episode 6 that sparked some hope in me. The announcers let two little things drop, almost as asides, as if to acknowledge the shortcomings we have all witnessed: 1) they posted a montage of all the celebs tripping and falling at the end of the Obstacle Course. Calling it out, but not outright saying anything – but definitely done with a wink. And 2) They casually mentioned that if one team didn’t win the Obstacle Course, they would be out of the running IF they didn’t take a handicap in the Tug of War. Aha! It’s not much, but it does give you a little hope that there may be a possibility of a real challenge awaiting if one team is so far behind, and that we won’t see them miraculously win the Obstacle Course, but instead see them drop a member from the Tug of War in exchange for a points bonus if they manage to win.

And again, I do not want to end on a bitter note, so let me just add that it has been really great seeing BOTNS alum come back to compete. And even if no one was there to watch, they still showed that they had it. Like 62-year old Shari Belafonte, paddling her way to a win in the Kayak Relay; former CBS team captain Lorenzo Lamas, guiding his new team to a BOTNS win; or, best of all, 76-year old Donna Mills, former BOTNS athlete AND cohost  (who even brought her original BOTNS trophy – awarded for her 1980 Team CBS win) not only winning, but slaying her event – Tennis – wherein she returned a record-setting 16 out of 20 serves. Way to go Ms. Mills – the spirit of the original BOTNS truly endures.

The Battle of The Network Stars 2017 Breakdown: Part 1

**UPDATE – glitches have been banished, and pics have now been added. Yay!**

So, I knew better than to expect that ABC’s reboot of its illustrious celebrity athletic competition series Battle of The Network Stars would come anywhere close to recapturing the magic, infectious energy of the original. Especially since there have been some major changes to the state of network television from the 70s and 80s. Back then ABC, NBC and CBS were the only major players in the network game who were duking it out for tv audience shares every night of the week, so making them battle network against network in athletic competition seemed wholly natural.

But still. ABC seemed to be coming at it from the right angle. They were honouring the original – evident by the vintage clips in the opening credits, they were opening up the players eligibility to current and former network stars, they were bringing back classic events, like the Kayak Relay, Obstacle Course and Baseball Dunk, they got real sportscasters to announce (although nowhere near as iconic as Howard Cosell) and they even secured Pepperdine University, home to almost every previous Battle, for the current  Battleground! I will say though, I was a little wary on how the new team concept was going to be executed – making teams based on themes like “TV Kids”, “Sex Symbols” and…”TV Sitcoms” (whoa, don’t get too creative there, guys) – but more on that later.

The first problem however, became apparent right from the start, and it remained there over the course of the next hour, through every event, dragging the spirit of everything down into depths of sadness and despair (I may be slightly exaggerating) and leaving me with one simple question. Where is everyone?

Bronson Pinchot is the blue speck on the far left, Kim Fields is the tiny red dot on the far right — and there’s noooo one else, anywhere.

Spectators abound in the orginal BOTNS, with Howard Cosell announcing (top) William R. Moses kayaking (middle) and Geoffrey Scott and Heather Locklear relaying (bottom)

One of the reasons the original BOTNS was such a success is that it was treated as an actual major sporting event, complete with spectators, cheerleaders and teammates on the sidelines cheering on the participants to victory. In the new BTONS, there is no one there. And I mean No.One.There. And let me tell you, it’s very disheartening to see Pepperdine’s massive outdoor track, shrouded in fog and completely empty…save for Lisa Welchel from The Facts of Life struggling in the distance to catch up to Dave Coulier from Full House as they run their leg of the relay race – supported by just a smattering of claps and hoots from their various demi-celebrities/teammates.

Ditto when the action shifts to Pepperdine’s Olympic-sized swimming pool. It’s been blocked off for just two sets of two swimmers, leaving only four teammates apiece clumped along one edge of this massive pool, cheering them on along with their two coaches.

And there’s another problem. The original BOTNS had 3 teams of 8 in each battle, so at any given time, you would have at least 18 celebs not actively participating, but cheering and supporting. The new BOTNS has only 2 teams of 5, which is problematic even outside of the lack of visual representation it causes – because this choice has warranted a restructuring of some of the events – making them much shorter. The swimming and  kayak relays have gone from 4-5 participants to 2. And as any BOTNS fan will attest, these events were always the most thrilling to watch because of the unpredictability of the match-ups, where the teams could go from first to third or vice versa with every new leg, tension building up as we all watched to see if each new celeb diving into the water would display some formerly hidden athletic prowess and surge ahead like a torpedo (Billy Moses!) or just sink like an anchor (Pamela Bellwood!). But now, with just 2 participants from 2 teams, the new relays are hardly relays at all, and over before tension can even get built up.

BUT before I get too gloomy about BOTNS redux,  there are some things that do get the thumbs up from me:

Improved Baseball Dunk – making the swimming pool double as the dunk tank AND placing the dunk platform 15 ft above it? Genius.

New Mini Events – the inclusion of smaller events (Soccer, Tennis, Basketball, Golf and Archery) and presenting them all “re-cap style” provides a nice tempo shift in the show and is very welcome addition.

Announcers – Joe Tessitori and Mike Greenberg do an admirable job of treating the BOTNS tradition with dignity, but are not above having a good laugh at the expense of the participants, whether it be at Olivia D’Abo managing to belly flop her way into the dunk pool or when regarding her Wonder Years costar Jason Hervey’s diva drama after he refuses to wear a red shirt (which is a part of his required uniform since he is on the red team) (he eventually switched to red).

Jodi-Lyn O’Keefe about to get dunked by Todd Bridges in the new and improved (yet still desolate-looking) baseball dunk

Coming Up in Part 2 – a closer look at the team structure and a deep dive into the BIG problem, competiton-wise, that’s plaguing the new BOTNS!