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'America's Got Talent' recap: Season 6 premieres (not to everyone's delight)

May 31, 2011 |  9:00 pm

Preview Before Tuesday night, I'd never watched an episode of "America’s Got Talent." I have been a dedicated viewer of "So You Think You Can Dance" and "American Idol" for several seasons, though. And I learned something tonight -- that when it comes to televised talent competitions, I am spoiled and I am a snob.

Thanks to clips from "The Soup," I knew what I was getting into Tuesday night. "America’s Got Talent" doesn’t discriminate when it comes to what kind of talent is allowed into the audition process, so in addition to actual talented performers, we see something of a resurrection of old-fashioned vaudeville. There are circus acts, kiddie acts, animal acts and sideshow acts (my very least favorite were the old-timers dressed up in bonnets and diapers and little socks dancing to "Lollipop." Gross.) 

I see the charm, especially in the summertime, in this concept.  It's a diplomatic way of giving people their 15 minutes, and it puts would-be YouTube stars on the big(ger) screen. Most of us enjoy David Letterman's stupid human or stupid animal tricks, and several of the tricks on this show don't get much more stupid than them. But a large part of what makes Letterman's segments so entertaining is Dave himself, but, unfortunately, there's no Dave on AGT. 

Judges Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel didn't bother me, but what did was the  soulless, slick production of the show.  I'm sure some of this can be blamed on the fact that we were in the audition process (which is rarely the best part of any reality talent competition), but the show seemed aimed at an impatient teenager with her cellphone in hand, ready to text the second things get slow.  Hardly any shot lasted more than a few seconds before we cut to host Nick Cannon mugging for his life backstage or any number of brainless top 40 hits hammering us between segments.  This ADD-directing did a disservice to a lot of the performers, for instance, the Yellow Designs Stunt Team, a crew of BMX bikers whose stunts I think were pretty cool, but we never got to look for that long.  I have been told by many that the show improves as it goes on (more than one guy has confessed that he and his family gathered around the TV to watch the proceedings of Prince Poppycock), but if the show gets to a legitimately entertaining point, I hope the producers slow down and give audience members the benefit of the doubt and just let the performers perform the way they do with the best talent on "Idol" or SYTYCD.

In some ways, the show reminds me of the amateur night segments of "Showtime at the Apollo," thanks to the cruel mistress that is the theater audience. Even that seems overly processed. Their applause or boos sounded sweetened to my ears, and few things are less appealing than fake studio noise. For some reason, in L.A., the camera kept cutting to the same guy for incredulous, hand-on-the-head reaction shots. 

For a show that's such a hodgepodge, the competition feels somewhat inevitable. I'm not just basing this on the series' history to date, but it seems likely that the show will be won by a singer, musician or a dancer, someone who can do something different every week, who can improve from episode to episode. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that lady with the talking parrot is going to make it.

Look, I know I’m a grouch. I hate it when tourists stop to gawk at those robot people on street corners. Adorable, precocious, tiny children do nothing for me (sorry, Sh'Boss Boys.)  I know this show is immensely popular and will probably be a summertime hit long after my corpse is in the cold, cold ground, but in the spirit of big American dreams, I will confess that I was charmed by Frank Mills, the juggler who plays with stun guns. It wasn't his death-defying act that I enjoyed but his showmanship and patter, his little jokes about peeing on himself and being drunk. I loved that he started juggling as a way to deal with his fear of people, and I loved that he thought to add the little touch of the rubber ducky to the pool of water he stood in as he juggled. That's entertainment.

That said, I think this will be the last episode of "America’s Got Talent" I'll watch on purpose. I wish Frank and the neato glow-in-the-dark Team Illuminate dancers well, but I know where America's really got talent this summer, and it's on "So You Think You Can Dance."

-- Claire Zulkey

Photo: Brennan Figari auditions for "America’s Got Talent."

Credit: Trae Patton / NBC