Spike renewed Lip Sync Battle for a second season this week, a vote of confidence for a series that has defied the expectations for a gimmicky reality competition show on a second-tier channel that recently dropped “TV” from its name.
The concept of the show is disarmingly simple: Take two celebrities and let them ham it up whilst mouthing the words to a popular song. It is, in more ways than one, the antithesis of the classic singing competition show. The novelty of plucking an unknown talent out of obscurity and giving them a record contract has worn off, if the falling ratings for American Idol and the unceremonious cancellation of The X Factor are any indication. Only The Voice remains prominent from this once-inescapable genre, and that show hasn’t minted a new pop star in its four-year run.
Lip Sync Battle dispenses with the whole “singing” and “talent” bit and goes straight for the jugular of fun (or “fungular,” as I call it). It’s unabashedly mindless escapism. I binge-watched the first four episodes while doing the dishes, preparing a meal, and balancing my checkbook. Against my better judgment, I enjoyed myself. I don’t know if I’m going soft or if this is just a winning formula for entertainment.
There’s a good reason why certain people are famous. It’s because people like watching them. LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen — the host and “colorful commentator,” respectively — are naturally charismatic and also seem to be having a great time. So far, the guests have had off-the-charts charisma. For this show to work, the competitors have to be highly engaging; otherwise, the format devolves into a grotesque, awkward pantomime. I like the Rock, so I’m obviously going to enjoy watching the Rock dress up as Tony Manero. If I was tied to a chair and made to witness my cousin lip-sync “Goodbye Horses,” I’d wet myself. My cousin is not the Rock.
More importantly, the “battle” part of Lip Sync Battle is not a battle at all. There are no judges, no text message voting, and no real scoring system. This is fine by me. When I come home from a hard day of clawing my way to the top of the media ladder, I don’t want to see more hopeless strivers failing miserably. No, sir. I want to see famous people laughing!
Instead of the nervy counting of votes or the delivery of cutting feedback from a panel of experts, the studio audience chooses their favorite lip-syncer through the very nonscientific method of who they cheer for the loudest. The lack of actual competition turns the show into a dinner party activity, with celebrities thrown in to spice things up; it’s a less embarrassing, less tedious version of NBC’s Hollywood Game Night.
The way I describe it makes it sound like I don’t enjoy this show, I’m sure, but I do. I smiled through most of the episodes and even found myself tapping my toes along to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, an act unimaginable a few days ago. Personally, I can’t wait for Lip Sync Battle: Home Edition to go on sale at my nearest national retailer. It’ll just be a box filled with a fake microphone and a series of funny wigs for $29.95 — the music, you can supply yourself.
How long can this gimmick last? Probably not much past three or four years. Eventually, you’re going to run out of celebrities, or if you don’t, you’ll lose the surprise factor of seeing your favorite sitcom star dressed up like a ballerina. You gotta keep the audience guessing, so why not mix up the formula in Season 2 with these outside-the-box suggestions for celebrity combatants:
The Song: “O Fortuna,” by Carl Orff
The Costume: A druid’s cloak
The Routine: Tucci gives a flawless rendition of the epic poem from Carmina Burana, but you can’t see his face because it’s so dark and his druid hood is just too big. That almost defeats the purpose of a lip-sync battle, but isn’t it less about the way your lips move and more about attitude and feeling? He perfectly mouths the lyrics anyway, because if anyone can learn Latin quickly, it’s Stanley Tucci. Hell, he might already speak Latin now.
Hologram Tupac From Coachella 2012
The Song: “Who Shot Ya,” by Notorious B.I.G.
The Costume: Who cares? It’s Tupac lip-syncing “Who Shot Ya”! Plus, he’s a hologram, man. Come on.
The Routine: The hologram does its thing while the real Tupac rolls over in his grave in the background. The audience starts throwing things at the stage. Overall, it’s a complete disaster. No one is happy. Not a single person. Maybe this was a bad idea?
The Song: “Oops! … I Did It Again,” by Britney Spears
The Costume: A schoolgirl’s outfit
The Routine: First of all, let me say congratulations to Barry Bonds for his recent court victory. Not only does this clear the way for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it also makes him available for reputation-repairing TV guest appearances. What better way to soften his image than throwing some pigtails on his (abnormally large) head and cutting a rug?
The Song: “Cheree,” by Suicide
The Costume: A garbage bag with absolutely no eye or mouth holes
The Routine: Not so much a “dance” as it is a very troubled man writhing on the floor while slowly suffocating. For the big finish, Shia rips out of the bag to reveal he’s completely naked and covered in whipped cream. The crowd goes wild.