The invention of the television set added an exciting new dimension to the audio-only medium of radio. By introducing a visual element to broadcasts, narratives no longer had to rely solely on voices and could become infinitely more complex. Unfortunately for everyone with a cable subscription, Fox has decided not to make any effort to explore those affordances.
The trend of televised singing competitions has served as something of a digestive system for major networks; it has only produced crap, yet it is still seen as a necessary niche for TV programming. Television’s latest case of dysentery comes in the form of Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” a competition in which ten celebrities compete to see who can entertain an over-enthusiastic audience and a dollar-store panel of “celebrity” judges the most. The star-studded foursome consists of actor Ken Jeong (“The Hangover,” “Community”), former Playboy model and current anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy, Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls and singer Robin Thicke.
The catch? The contestants are covered from head to toe in elaborate costumes, leaving their identities a mystery. While it is fair that anyone would want to be covered up in the presence of the creative genius behind 2013’s ‘Blurred Lines’, the costumes also serve to introduce tension and excitement into a stale format. The celebrity contestants come from a variety of backgrounds — comedian Tommy Chong and Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown are the two that have been booted so far — and give small hints at their identities before taking the stage.
To an extent, this gimmick has the opposite effect. The prospect of watching Antonio Brown sing is enticing, but that isn’t what the audience gets. Without knowing who is behind the mask, the performance is no more exciting than a second-rate “America’s Got Talent” act. This recognition is what made shows like Spike’s “Lip Sync Battle” somewhat palettable. To quote Jeong: “A well-known singer from the 50s has beaten a poodle.” Truly must-watch TV.
Only at the end of the show does the audience get answers to their questions. After introducing several acts — presented in a face-off format for some reason — host Nick Cannon reveals the identity of a single contestant. With such a heavy focus on the big reveal, the actual ‘singing’ takes a backseat and turns into something of a chore to watch. With such a paltry payoff, it is just not worth it to sit through the 60-minute runtime.
The show is an adaptation of a format that has been successful internationally, and viewership through the first two episodes has been surprisingly high. It remains to be seen whether or not audiences can sit through a full season of the show or if the novelty will wear off as viewers get frustrated with the format, but conceptually “The Masked Singer” should have never showed its face in the States.