Take that, haters: NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” did not provide nearly the fodder you so voraciously anticipated. The show went off Thursday night without any major hitch or clunky notes — and was far more entertaining and certainly more endurable than its zombie predecessor, last year’s “The Sound of Music Live!” The worst thing you could say about “Peter Pan Live!” was that it was a lousy hate-watch and, thus, a tiny bit boring.
The Twitterverse’s claws retracted within the broadcast’s first few minutes. Allison Williams, in the title role, took off on a wire and did not plummet to her demise, nor did Wendy, Michael or John. Williams’s singing and acting were that of someone who had something to prove instead of a brand to advance.
She’s no Mary Martin, but she might be a Sandy Duncan (and face it, no Peter ever flew like Cathy Rigby did). That settled, viewers who stuck with “Peter Pan Live!” for three hours were treated to a technically adequate, charmingly performed night of retro theater-on-television. It will never look easy, but they made it look like fun. And it’s still a worthy idea, to stage a live musical on network TV while enduring and even coyly inviting the instantly shared scrutiny and criticism of millions.
But it’s still not a concept perfectly suited to 21st-century showbiz. The soap-opera video quality and occasional cassette-like hiss; the lack of an audience to play off of; the unkind way high-definition TV so clearly finds smudged makeup and the crucial wires that lift Peter and his friends aloft — what’s the aim here, exactly? To relocate ourselves to 1955?
If so, the nostalgia doesn’t quite convey, no matter how hard one claps for a computer-generated, Lunesta butterfly-like Tinker Bell. Old musicals tend to run long and come across as strangely convoluted.
Old musicals are also often filled with old ideas about relationships and plenty of old stereotypes. The reworked Tiger Lily number, which used to be filled with “Indian” nonsense in the beloved classic, is undeniably better for its new rewrite (take note, Daniel Snyder).
“Peter Pan Live’s!” one letdown was Christopher Walken as the show’s villain pirate, Captain Hook. It was an act of stunt-casting that seemed perfectly appropriate when announced but, in practice, was about as strong as wet cardboard. The 71-year-old Walken perked up some for his final number (“Captain Hook’s Waltz”), but he mostly seemed like he was auditioning to be one of those people in the inhaler commercials who have an elephant sitting on their chests.
See how I quibble? When really I’m mostly relieved. (Aren’t you?) “Peter Pan Live!” failed to be a disaster, but it succeeded in transmitting an authentic idea of what TV looks like when it welcomes all and wishes only to entertain.
So if I didn’t hate it (and if you didn’t hate it), and if no big notes were missed and no wires tragically snapped, what are we going to do with the rest of this space?
I know: Let’s have a real talk about NBC.
I’m less fascinated (or perturbed, as some viewers seemed to be) by the fact that Williams just happens to be the 26-year-old daughter of “NBC Nightly News” anchorman Brian Williams than I am thoroughly exhausted by the ceaseless cross-promotion and logrolling that defines the NBCUniversal realm now.
There’s a point where corporate synergy veers into an area of unseemliness. NBC crossed that line long ago, but are they ever embarrassed by it? By the constant fawning over NBC stars on NBC’s late-night talk shows? Or the vacuous nightmare that’s become the “Today” show? Or the utterly joyless, cheap ocean-cruise quality of this year’s telecasts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremonies, featuring NBC stars half-heartedly plugging their singing-competition shows, dramas and sitcoms? (Even they must be sick of themselves.)
It’s certainly a desperate network’s job to sell itself, and I’m not suggesting that other networks are nobly immune to crass displays (the ABC/Disney one-two punch can be just as feeble). During the weeks leading up to “Peter Pan Live!,” it seemed NBC had no grasp of how its claustrophobic corporate self-regard plays to viewers. It’s become the tackiest house on the street.
Only through a lot of sincere effort and rehearsal did “Peter Pan Live!” fly just above the network that almost promoted it to death. Is it any surprise that millions of people tuned in to hate-watch it?