Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris made its live-television debut on Tuesday night, with guest announcer Reese Witherspoon and lots of pranks, stunts, tricks, and guest stars. Harris was energetic and charming, but the show itself was forced merriment. If half the stuff on this show truly surprised the people who were supposedly surprised, I’d be very surprised.
Take, for example, the couple from Alabama plucked from the studio audience. Harris rattled off a list of things they’d done in the past year—got married; took a New York City vacation, for example—and proceeded to show them footage of these events in which Harris had secretly planted himself. He was a hotel doorman in disguise in Manhattan; he photo-bombed some of their wedding pictures. The couple looked mildly surprised; the elaborate prank looked so staged it seemed impossible that the couple hadn’t been in on these jokes.
So, too, did another prank in which Harris, in make-up and wig, passed himself off as an Austrian host of The Voice, doing intentionally-irritating interviews and singing for judges Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, Blake Shelton, and Gwen Stefani. This was sub-Borat stuff, with Harris’ disguise so patently false I never believed his fellow celebs were hoodwinked.
Harris and Witherspoon climbed 15 stories high and swooped down on a zip-line. Okay. A woman chosen at random from the audience answered seven of 16 questions correctly and won a lot of stuff. Okay.
Best Time Ever is an American adaptation of the long-running British show Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. (Ant and Dec, big stars in their homeland but fairly unknown here, made a cameo appearance in the final segment, the “End of the Show Show” musical number.) They originated stunts such as one Best Time Ever also used: planting cameras in three houses (in this case, in Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas) and surprising the inhabitants of those homes to sing along to a karaoke song.
Gloria Gaynor swiveled her hips onstage to sing a sturdy version of “I Will Survive,” and at key moments, her vocal dropped away and the citizen singer had to complete a line to win a prize.
I watched an Ant and Dec show that did this—you can check out the one I watched here and it did look pretty spontaneous, although I don’t know how a TV producer can guarantee, during a live television broadcast, that the chosen people will actually be in front of their TV sets and ready to sing without being tipped off in advance. Certainly in the American version, the households were awfully well-stuffed with enthusiastic TV watchers ready to vocalize. If you’d somehow tucked a camera into my house without my knowledge, I can assure you I’d be caught on camera slurping coffee, scratching my unmentionables, and would require five minutes and some I.D. before I joined in on this spontaneous live-TV event.
I liked that Best Time Ever was big and loud and frenetic and ambitious. I just wish I could have suspended my disbelief for even one segment. I don’t know; am I too cynical? Did you believe all these stunts and pranks?
Best Time Ever airs on NBC Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET.