'The Singing Office' experiences a production shortfall
The false conceit of most televised talent shows, from "American Idol" to "America's Best Dance Crew," is the notion that superstars lurk, undiscovered, in the general population. In truth, most reality finalists have trained in their fields for years, gained and lost record contracts, taken steps to make it big in the professional world. And it's better that way. True amateurs are pretty hard to watch.
That's the lesson of "The Singing Office," TLC's new attempt to cash in on the talent show craze. The show, which premieres tomorrow night at 9, purports to find the best singers in everyday workplaces and turn them into . . . basically, contestants in a middle school talent show.
But don't tell that to our hosts, Spice Girl Mel B. and former 'N Syncer Joey Fatone, who put on their best cheerleader faces as they champion their dueling "teams." They're almost surreally focused on the positive - especially Fatone, who, with his gigs on "The Singing Bee," "
Here, he and Mel each saunter through a workplace - in tomorrow's premiere, it's a swank Los Angeles hair salon and the corporate headquarters of 1-800-DENTIST - auditioning singers in a sort of condensed version of the "Idol" auditions, sans insanity. In the end, five office favorites are sent to a two-day musical-theater "boot camp," where they learn a mildly cheesy song-and-dance routine that they'll perform before a live audience. They're practically set up to fail, given the material: tomorrow, one group will sing "Zoot Suit Riot" while the other will croon the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself." It's the equivalent of a high school marching band tooting out a top-40 hit.
And it's at this rehearsal stage that the truth about singing ability comes out. It might not take inordinate talent to sing as well as a Spice Girl, but performing onstage - especially in a group - takes more training than two days can possibly provide. Our newly minted entertainers falter at once, putting a twist on office politics: The salon employees must diplomatically contend with the fact that their boss can't keep time to save his life.
If anything, "The Singing Office" spends a little too much time exploring office dynamics. We hear a lot about how happy the 1-800-DENTIST employees are to finally meet their co-workers. ("I like that the seventh floor got to know the eighth floor," one of them says sincerely.) But it's equally hard to focus on the performances; there's only so much drama that can be wrung from waving jazz hands in the wrong direction.
In the end, after various misdirected waves, kicks, and musical notes, the audience votes for one team to advance and the other to go back to work. But at this point, the performers don't even seem to care. They're too exhilarated by the applause. This show might not launch many showbiz careers, but it's likely to send new regulars to the karaoke bars. If they're late for work the next morning, there's only one network to blame.