Some Thoughts on Lip Sync Battle

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Last week, Spike TV debuted their new show Lip Sync Battle, based on a popular recurring segment on The Tonight Show. This show couldn’t have been any more up my alley if they tried; in fact, I’m not sure that they didn’t have some sort of secret insight into my brain to determine what would make me happy. I’ve written before about my love of lip syncing in general and the segments on The Tonight Show have been among my favorite things that they have done. Add in that John Krasinski is among one of the creators of the show and that the debut episode featured a lip sync battle between Jimmy Fallon and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and there aren’t many more boxes that you could have ticked off the make me ridiculously happy. Just as icing on the cake, LL Cool J is the host of the program, who I also enjoy. The stars were aligned for me to totally fall in love with this program and I tuned in to the first two episodes on Thursday with great anticipation and excitement. Of course because I’m me I also had some doubts – could they really make an enjoyable half hour program from based on a short segment of another show? – but I generally went into the experience with high hopes.

I am happy to report that in general Lip Sync Battle lived up to the hype. Kicking off the series with Jimmy Fallon, who obviously knows what it takes to make an entertaining segment and has a vested interest in the show’s success as an executive producer, and The Rock, who is pretty much game for anything, was a smart decision and definitely started the series off on the right foot. The willingness of the participants to commit to the premise of the show and to be silly is crucial to its success and based on who is appearing on upcoming shows it is clear that they get that. Overall, Lip Sync Battle is a fun little diversion and a nice way to start the kickoff to the weekend.

The show uses the same general premise as the segments on The Tonight Show – each contestant lip syncs two songs and then a winner is chose by audience applause. The second performance tends to be more over-the top and involves costumes and props. They don’t perform the entire song, but they do lip sync longer portions than they do on The Tonight Show. Even with the extended songs, there is still some need for filler to make a 22 minute program, so they add in some interviews with the contestants and have Chrissy Teigen on hand to give color commentary and fulfill the necessary “hot babe” quotient for all Spike TV programming. There’s also some gamesmanship between the contestants throughout the show, as they banter and trash talk.

To give you an idea of the additional pageantry involved, here are Jimmy Fallon and The Rock’s second performances from the premiere episode:

 

I always suspected that The Rock had some sweet dance moves.

Though the show was generally a lot of fun, I did have two complaints about it. The first was the presence of Chrissy Teigen, who adds absolutely nothing to the show. If she was just there to look nice, that’s fine – let’s be honest about why she’s there – but the fact that they insist on having her speak and give an opinion is a complete waste. She’s got nothing to say, frequently stumbles over her words and she was incredibly annoying on the episode that her husband John Legend appeared on. I’d much rather that they either eliminate her role completely or if they gave more of her limited screen time to LL Cool J, who is much more experienced and probably could come up with something to say that was actually interesting or articulate.

The bigger issue I have with the show is the way that Spike TV has chosen to promote it. I would have been way more excited to see The Rock and Jimmy Fallon perform their songs if I was didn’t know what they were doing. Instead, Spike TV shows clips of the upcoming performances as they go in and out of commercial breaks, so any element of surprise is eliminated. Seeing The Rock dressed up like John Travolta three minutes before the actual lip syncing kind of takes some of the fun out of it. Because the songs that most of the contestants are preforming are pretty well known, it doesn’t take more than a second or two to recognize the costume or set design and know what’s coming down the pike. They did this not only for the performances within the episode but for upcoming performances as well. In some ways, I feel like I don’t even need to tune into the show – just watch the promos and you’ve seen all the moments that people will be talking about the next day. Half the fun of the segments on The Tonight Show was that the song selections were so unexpected and were not teased ahead of time. I get that they have to promote the show somehow, but spoiling most of the content ahead of time is probably not the way to do it. There’s got to be some balance. At this point, I know pretty much all the songs that people are performing for the rest of the season and we’re only on episode two.

Despite these annoyances, I still gave Lip Sync Battle a season pass on my DVR. There are probably ways that this could be executed better and I am skeptical that this will be a long running show as the premise will eventually get played out, but it’s still a fun little way to spend some time. The quality of the contestants will make a big difference; as long as they can keep a steady supply of big names on the show, they’ll be in good shape. Right now a lot of the people that are appearing on the show are somehow directly connected to it – co-creators Krasinski, Emily Blunt and Stephen Merchant are all appearing – or are friends with people that are directly connected. I’ll be curious to see who appears in later seasons after obvious contacts have been exploited. Still, based on the buzz that I’ve seen online, the show is off to a good start; The Rock lip syncing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” certainly caught a lot of people’s attention.

Lip Sync Battle is worth checking out overall; there’s room for improvement, but even in its current form it will make you smile.

Lip Sync Battle airs Thursday nights at 10 pm on Spike TV.

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