Wednesday, October 16, 2019

IS "THE MASKED SINGER" ACTUALLY GOOD? A mild defense of a reality show where celebrities sing dressed like Furries.

(Deep sigh)

I think I like “The Masked Singer”.

I know, I really, really shouldn’t…- shouldn’t I hate this? Well, ye-, well, yeah, there’s definitely parts of it that I don’t care for. I know it’s a joke of a show to most, and probably rightfully so, but I don’t know, it's one of the very few shows that I actually go out of my way to watch every week on network television now, and I kinda think it’s pretty entertaining show. It's not the greatest thing, but-eh, just hear me out on this one….

“The Masked Singer” I’m told, originated as a show in South Korea I believe, where it became a particularly big hit, and Fox then picked it up for air last season, and it’s basically been a punchline ever since.

Honestly, I get it, especially when you saw the first commercials, you’re watching a bunch of non-brand mascots singing and performing and we’re told the game is to figure out who’s the “Celebrity” under the mask. Look, I can see why it’s clearly FOX making a very desperate attempt to try to keep themselves relevant in the singing competition market. Their cash cow for years was “American Idol”, and when “The Voice” started to take their spot, and eventually “Idol” faded into obscurity before reemerging, barely, on ABC, FOX didn’t want to give up quite yet, and they’re already known for having a reputation of putting on anything, so yeah, “The Masked Singer”, why not take a flyer on this. This absurdist, strange parody of a singing competition? (Shrugs)

Look, I’m not making any declarations that it’s the best reality-competition show or anything- this isn’t great television by any standard, but I do think it’s worth defending and unlike some other really popular reality series, it actually deserves to be one the air. It’s surreal, it’s garish, it’s certainly distinctive, which is hard to do in what’s essentially just a singing competition. I mean, it’s arguably more of a showcase for the Costume Design then anything else, and to be fair, the bizarre furry costumes are actually pretty decent. Nick Cannon’s a solid enough host, the- well, I guess they’re not “Judges”, to me they're more of a “Panel” in the game show sense, cause basically all this is is essentially a weird, twisted version of “What’s My Line?” or “To Tell The Truth”. I mean, I don’t think Mark Goodson’s looking down at this legacy proudly, but it’s a fun little game. Instead of the panel wearing blindfolds, the celebrities are behind a mask, and you gotta figure out a celebrity. Frankly, I’ve been wanting a reboot of “What’s My Line?” for years now, because I think the show could be done well and be equally different and intriguing in today’s world. I mean, imagine all the different new jobs out there that people have that didn’t exist fifty or sixty years ago, not-to-mention all the several different kinds of celebrities out there. I mean, I’ll even admit on “The Masked Singer” that I don’t even bother trying to guess when it's a “Youtube Celebrity”, ‘cause the ones who are celebrities to me are apparently never the ones who I’d consider the most influential of “Influencers”, and I never hear of them until they get in trouble and then I look them up and I honestly can’t figure out why any of them were famous to begin with or why we’re now shocked they’re in trouble…-  sorry, that’s another rant.

And, I do like stuff that challenges your celebrity IQ in real ways though. One of my favorite teachers in High School was Mr. Akers; he taught English, and he was a laid-back, kinda sardonic professor. He was very intelligent though, and kinda broke down a lot of the high school bullshit pretty well, especially if you were a good student. I mean, I once told him a day in advance that I was going to be late on an assignment and he just said okay and let me turn it in two days later, ‘cause he knew I was doing it and learning and wouldn’t come at him with a BS excuse or anything, so he let it slide. (I was a good student, he let the smart ones get away with stuff.) Anyway, he did something that I absolutely loved. He would print out and cut out a bunch of names of famous people across every field or study you can think of, laminate them, and posted them randomly all over his walls; there was hundreds of them. Some more known then others, but essentially every major historical figure, scientific figure, pop culture icon, etc. etc. You can spend all day staring around the room looking at the names. Thomas Pynchon, next to George Carlin, next to Linus Pauling, next to Bono, above John Wayne, to the right of Rembrandt, next to Adam Smith, next to Steve Jobs, next to Mother Theresa next to Amerigo Vespucci, next to ALF, next to etc. etc. etc. etc. He would tell you that if you knew over 80% of the names on the wall then you should be smart enough to go to Harvard, and you’d get extra credit if you could bring in a picture of the guy and why he’s famous.

“The Masked Singer” is kind of an interesting modern test of this. It’s not just singers, so you can’t just judge on that. You have to try to recognize voices, try to figure out who it is based on their skill set and abilities, the clues, you also have to sorta figure out the limited, or extensive list of names that might perhaps do a show like this, and you kinda have to have a good and updated encyclopedia of names to draw upon, and even then, and even with some obvious clues, you could easily be fooled. All four panelists thought that one masked celebrity was a known professional singer before she took the mask off and it was Rumor Willis, a name that was never once guessed, mainly because, nobody knew she could sing that well. 

Talented people are talented, and you don’t always know what they’re truly capable of. And, you know what, that’s kind of an interesting dynamic as well, how talented we might consider somebody if we couldn’t see them. It’s not just a guessing game, it’s frankly a good analytical game that’s really based a lot around pop culture and really knowing it well, and even then…. Frankly, I like games like this when done normally, television has too over the years; why not some over-the-top absurdist, reality-inspired twist on this panel guessing game concept? 

That said, while I do enjoy the conceptual aspects of the show enough to buy in and watch regularly, I’m not overly crazy about the panel of experts they have. Like, it’s not a terrible group, but it is a bit of an uninspired group. You have Nicole Scherzinger, who’s (Shrugs) eh. Like, I guess she really must be a good hustler to keep getting work like this but I honestly have no real idea how she’s still famous. I mean, I know she’s a songwriter and was one of the Pussycat Dolls, but I-eh, I don’t know. Maybe she’s more influential behind-the-scenes or on social media or something. She’s fine though, not memorable. There’s Ken Jeong, who’s funny and obnoxious and yeah, he seems like he’s got a pretty solid knowledge base in pop culture and celebrity knowledge. I think he’s trying to be more entertaining then be an actual judge or panelist however; honestly, I can either take or leave him. I think he might be trying too hard. There’s Robin Thicke, which in theory is actually a pretty good choice for a panelist. It’s outside-the-box, and a bit odd since he’s probably the most famous person on there, but he’s been around Hollywood his whole life, so he has a very wide first-hand knowledge of celebrities from several different entertainment fields. He’s however been designated as the guy who takes this job too seriously and always has his notes out and his long lists of people and notes.... I don’t know, I feel like he got cast as the Dorothy Kilgallen of the group instead of the Arlene Francis of the group, and I don’t know, I think there’s better choices for that role then Thicke, and I think he can better if he was being more natural. (Speaking of modern-day Dorothy Kilgallen's, is Kennedy still around? What’s she been doing lately? [GOOGLE SEARCH] Of course, Fox Business Network. I guess I expected that, but,-eh I guess not anymore.... Alright, nevermind that train of thought)  

Then there’s (Frustrated sigh) Jenny McCarthy. Oh, I’m sorry, Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg, now. (I forgot she married Donnie; I guess it’s an improvement from dating Jim Carrey… [Shrugs])  I really should just hate this show because she’s on it. Look, as somebody with an autistic brother, her past stances on being the spokeswoman for not vaccinated your kids,- basically, she’s one of the few people in Hollywood who I would probably actually turn down working with, ‘cause of the some of the damage she’s done. I honestly cannot get over that, and I know there’s a lot of people in the industry and you’re not gonna agree with everybody on everything on a set of any kind, and I'm sure I've worked with people or will in the future who probably don't find her positions as objectionable as I do, and that's fair enough. I'm not gonna get into a personal political debate with others over her, but she was a spokeswoman, she was and might be still figurehead of that movement, and for that, she’s one of the few people who I personally will not be able to consciously get through any disagreements I may have with others while in the workplace.   

However, she does deserve her day in court as well, so I’m gonna give her a fair and equal evaluation of this latest career move of hers. That said, having grown up with her and followed her career from the beginnings ‘til now, it’s kinda just surreal to me that she’s still around, and I’m still watching her on TV. I know most of my readers are a little bit younger than me, they don’t remember that far back as her being almost as big a Playboy Playmate as Pamela Anderson was, or that she was the interview girl on “Singled Out”, opposite, Chris Hardwicke, who I’m actually more distressed is still around then her...-, but she’s had a weird, bizarre career, that’s probably worth much more analysis then I have time for, but here’s the thing, she’s not a terrible idea for a panelist on this show. 

She’s been around forever, been around several parts of Hollywood forever, she’s had a few different high-profile careers in different areas of the entertainment world. She has kinda done a little bit of everything. Oddly, taking out my personal bias, the part about her being a judge I really hate is that it actually restricts her from showing off some of her talents. I’ve gone back and watched a few of those old episodes of “Singled Out” when I can find them online, and as frustrating as this is to say, yes, she was really funny. Seriously, she really was a unique voice and personality that was actually much harder to replace then people realized at the time. Remember when we tried to replace her in pop culture with Cindy Margolis? No? Exactly! Like, to me, she would’ve been a pretty good candidate to be on this show, not somebody judging it, and I bet she would’ve killed it. Maybe not based on her singing skills, but she would’ve been entertaining. Here, she kinda just fades into the background with the rest of the judges;  her biggest strengths was always being able to interact with others around her; her personality and willingness to do most anything made her one of the most distinctive and memorable names of the mid-nineties. Perhaps she’d be a better host than Cannon, who’s good, but you can kinda tell he’s getting tired of this kind of gig and you can read this as a downgrade from “America’s Got Talent” in terms of career trajectory for him.

Actually, I can prove it to you, let me try searching for some old "Singled Out" reruns again, prove she was actually funny. (Searching YOUTUBE) I know they're hard to come by, but honestly she was...- wait, what the...-

They brought back "Singled Out". They actually brought back, "Singled Out"!? Honestly, I'm kinda shocked it took them this long. Next thing you know, VH-1 will bring back "The List". Or maybe MTV will do something really daring and bring back music videos. (Thank God, I've finally got the internet back permanently so I can find out about these things sooner.) Look, I'm not gonna go into a complete compare & contrast here, but just trust me on this one, the original version was better. The game isn't that different, although the differences do matter a bit, but just trust me, find original Jenny McCarthy episodes of the show and you'll be able to tell; it was much better back then. Just trust me on that. 

So, overall, as to "The Masked Singer", this isn’t my ideal group of modern panelists for this type of show. It’s not terrible or anything, but I feel that mostly this is a missed opportunity and it's the-, maybe not the weakest part of the show, but the part that might be the most detrimental to it. 

Admittedly, there’s not much more to the show and perhaps I haven’t given the greatest defense of it. Look, I’m trying to justify a lot of this, but if you want to just call this a “guilty pleasure” of mine, then sure, it’s a guilty pleasure compared to most of the stuff I watch regularly or recommend, but I do think there’s genuine intellectual stimulation and appeal here. I mean, for a show about a bunch of elaborately-dressed Furries performing in a singing competition, this could’ve been a lot worst, and frankly considering how bad and downright embarrassing this could’ve been, this isn’t bad at all. It’s just an odd and strange take on an identify-the-mystery-man type of game. You know what, it’s worth being on TV and it’s worth my time to watch it. 

BTW: I’m like 99% positive, the skeleton is Paul Shaffer. None of the judges guessed him yet, but, that’s- that’s gotta be Paul Shaffer, right?  

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