Showville

AMC’s new summer reality show is out to prove that America’s got talent... just not in those exact words. Still, Showville exudes a certain air of familiarity, even if its structure is akin to cramming an entire season of one of the other talent competition series into a one-hour episode. Each week, performance coaches Alec Mapa and Lisette Bustamante travel to a new small town in the heartland, hold open auditions, select four finalists, and coach them for the big show in front of all their friends and neighbors.

It’s a heartwarming little idea, but the execution leaves something to be desired. In tonight’s premiere, Alec and Lisette arrive in Holland, Michigan to judge the potential competitors. Alec is an actor you probably recognize from his role as the Wacky Gay Neighbor on any sitcom of your choice from the past two decades, while Lisette (whose brassy personality is pitched somewhere between Mariah Carey and Bette Midler) is a choreographer who has worked with Britney, Madonna, Prince, and all the other one-namers you can think of. In the first six minutes of the episode, Showville rips through a dizzying string of contenders: opera singers, magicians, yodeling puppeteers, guys who shove nails up their nostrils and stick their tongues in mouse traps... you know, the whole rainbow of performing arts.

The four finalists are: Macieg, a magician whose name almost sounds like “Magic”; married musicians Darlene and Randy; sideshow performers Jackie and Michael; and singer-songwriter Doug. It’s up to Alec and Lisette to whip them into show-ready shape in two days, mainly by giving them little bits of business to do. Lisette is big on engaging the audience through facial expressions, eye contact, and call-and-response verses for songs she hasn’t heard all the way through yet. Alec wants to make sure the acts are understood, which isn’t necessarily easy for fast-talking Michael or Macieg, a heavily-accented Polish immigrant. (At one point, Macieg requests a chair, and both Alec and Lisette think he’s asking for a child.)

We also get a little dose of every contestant’s home life. It comes as no surprise to learn that geeky Doug is a Renaissance Faire performer who also does children’s parties; everyone knows a Doug. Darlene and Randy have a dynamic reminiscent of Jack Sprat and his wife; they’re a charming enough pair, as are Jackie and Michael. Macieg probably has the most interesting back-story: He and his wife started out as pen pals and decided to get married before he even left Poland. Truth be told, though, they’re all a little on the dull side. Sure, Macieg has kind of an odd energy, but the rest just seem like perfectly nice but bland Middle Americans. Meanwhile, both Alec and Lisette have such show-bizzy souls, they’re perfectly content to mug for the cameras at any opportunity, leaving even less time for their stars-in-waiting to make an impression.

If you lived in Holland and you were friends with any of these people, you’d be happy to go see them perform in a talent show, but what’s in it for those of us watching from the couch? We get some mediocre magic (Macieg can make birds appear out of a variety of objects!), a terrible song about having a mime in your head who tells you what do, some pleasant Irish pennywhistle, and a woman chopping vegetables on her husband’s bare torso. (Okay, that last one was somewhat impressive.) All of this and an MC who is a financial advisor by day and the most boring man alive by night.

It’s easy to see what AMC was going for here: another show for their “weird America” reality niche, as exemplified by Small Town Security. The idea of traveling to a different Main Street every week and uncovering the Twin Peaks within is sound, but at least in this first episode, all the network has proven is that some pleasant, sleepy small towns are just what they appear to be on the surface. Every burg in America has had a talent show like the one on Showville at one time or another, but there’s a reason most of them don’t end up on television.

Stray observations:

  • Showville also features a segment in which the performance coaches experience some of the local culture. In Holland, Michigan, this means Lisette ends up trying on a bunch of big wooden shoes.
  • Randy nicely sums up what Lisette is all about: "She puts the sprinkles on the cupcake."
  • Alec on Macieg: "There's the it factor and there's the wha? factor, and he's got a little of both.
  • Spoiler alert! Macieg wins. I'm happy for him, and glad he gets to take his bride to Poland with the $10,000 prize, but I think I'd have gone for the woman with the whip and the guy with the nail up his nose.

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