Screens: Spike

'I Actually Have Found The Dad-ness Of These Celebs Oddly Endearing'

Joe Reid and Tara Ariano discuss the pleasures and pains of Lip Sync Battle -- but don't worry: they know exactly how to fix it.

Our Players

Hello, I'm West Coast Editor Tara Ariano.
Hello, I'm Previously.TV contributor Joe Reid.

The Talk

Joe Reid. You and I have faced off in pop culture games for, I'm going to say, most of our adult lives, which is why whenever I watch Lip Sync Battle at my home in Hawaii, even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we're both yelling at the celebrities who suck at it.

I honestly do not ask for much. I'm pretty indulgent when it comes to celebrities, in fact. They're sheltered. They're probably more dumb than we realize. Nobody ever tells them "no." They deserve my sympathy and my understanding. But they also need to learn how not to fuck up simple parlor games that might otherwise be so much fun. (I'm not going to dip into the Hollywood Game Night well just yet, but know that I am prepared to.)

The thing about Lip Sync Battle is that it's an incredibly fun idea on its face. Two celebrities face off in two rounds of lip-sync competition. We've seen it on Fallon a half-dozen or so times, and it's been great. But the leap from late-night segment to cable game show required a structural rigor that the current incarnation of this show does not currently possess. And oh my GOD does it make me mad.

It's really true. The fun of watching goofy shit like this on The Tonight Show, and on Fallon's Late Night before it, is that when they get celebrities to play games, they must go through so many rounds of negotiations that the stars are really prepared in advance, and when they get out there to do it, they commit. But maybe the issue is that the longer format is too great a drain on their limited reserves of attention, so a certain kind of star is just going to half-ass it? Michael Strahan?

Michael Strahan! He's been my least favorite so far, but everyone from John Krasinski to The Rock himself have fallen short in some manner or another. Feel free to correct me, but the problem with Lip Sync Battle as it currently exists is threefold

  1. There is no requirement that the stars lip sync with any degree of accuracy whatsoever.
  2. The winner is determined entirely by an applause vote (an un-metered applause vote no less!).
  3. The match-ups have actually been pretty boring, all things considered.

We can deal with #3 later, but 1 and 2 go hand-in-hand. Strahan got mayyyybe three out of every ten words right on Bel Biv Devoe's "Poison," and if the audience had been only a little bit louder in his favor, he'd have won. It's not like his opponent, Hoda Kotb, was some amazing lip-sync-er either. She couldn't even get the opening-credits "20th Century Boy" right, and that's edited. But there needs to be a mechanism for rewarding accuracy, and it needs to be reflected in the final result. I saw we keep one camera trained on the performer's mouth at all times, and there's a judge who is only there to give a numerical score for accuracy. Make the judge a celebrity if you want to! (Just not, NOT Chrissy Teigen.) This will discourage facing away from the camera, which has already become an unforgivable cheat for far too many celebrities. To this end, they should put a cameraman behind the stage-right bar, since the celebrities love to turn to their opponent and sing-psych them out. Which should be encouraged! Just not at the expense of accurate lip-syncing, which is the whole point of the show.

Unsurprisingly, I agree with your very draconian correctives. (Though I would have added to your list of issues the fact that Chrissy Teigen is on the show at all.) In Hoda's case, I don't think she was turning around to cheat: I think that "spin with arm in air" is just her signature mom dance move, and I'm basing that on the fact that she did it multiple times during both her numbers.

After all, having the camera tight on Strahan's mouth during his first song didn't stop him from just going "ba ba ba" in an audience member's face: clearly, he couldn't manage to mouth the words to his first song while simultaneously humping the floor. I don't want to go so far as to prohibit non-performer celebrities across the board -- because I bet an Anderson Cooper, for instance, would be a lot of fun to watch -- but the Strahan vs. Kotb match-up would convince me of that rule addition if anything could.

I agree that there needs to be a judge who can DQ people for blatantly violating the actual point of the show, but I'd add that part of the problem may be that there really are no stakes at all. On Hollywood Game Night, at least a simple majority of celebrity game players act like they give a shit because they know they're there to try to help win money for a normal. If all I'm winning here is a dumb belt I'm going to stick in one of my fifteen walk-in closets, what's my motivation for learning a song, you know?

That's a solid enough point. I actually think there's been more of a motivation for the more A-list types (your Anne Hathaways, your Anna Kendrickseses) to do well because it enhances their brand, makes them more likable, et cetera. I honestly think Hathaway doing "Wrecking Ball" has done more for her public persona than anything she's done since The Devil Wears Prada.

But yeah, some charitable stakes at the very least might help the others.

One thing I expected to be more bothered by than I am is finding out how utterly square these celebs are. Finding out someone's go-to song, in 2015, is "Baby Got Back" says a lot. Not that I ever expected Hoda to be cool, but, like...MC Hammer? "Proud Mary"? But I actually have found the dad-ness of these celebs oddly endearing. It's like your Aunt Gayle took a shot of courage at the family reunion. (Speaking of which, OMG, Oprah vs. Gayle pleeeeeease.)

Can we talk about the second round for a second, since you brought it up? Because if Anne Hathaway's "Wrecking Ball" did change perceptions of her for some viewers, it didn't work on this one; I felt like even in a context where try-hard behaviour is expected, that was real try-hardy. But then again, looking back over all the second-round numbers, I can't really think of any that blew me away -- and in fact, they're all so effortful that they even retroactively make the first-round numbers seem less fun. Not to keep piling on Michael Strahan, but distracting from his many obvious shortcomings by bringing out the real Bell, Biv, and Devoe was the cheapest thing since Jennifer Lopez's walk-on in Anna Kendrick's second song. I assume someone thought that just two regular lip-syncs from each star would be too boring to build a whole show around, but the second songs are just such a CHORE to me. What do you think?

I get what you're saying. I'm generally more indulgent of try-hard behavior than you are, but I'm also incredibly wary of rewarding empty spectacle over genuine creativity, and I don't trust an applause vote from a studio full of UCLA sophomores to get the distinction. But I do think there should be some kind of raised stakes between one and two, and I'm generally okay with props and other talent-enhancement. Just only when it's used well. Which is why I'm renewing my call for judges. Judging panels on reality shows are imperfect, it's true, and they tend to take up a lot of time. But there's already so much dead space on this show anyway. And rather than goose the performances with pointless walk-ons, you can goose your judging panel instead.

And while I'm making requests, can we all as a society make a pact to stop treating Mike Tyson like a good-time fun celeb? Even if you forget about all the incredibly unsavory things he's said and done in his career, he's also NOT GOOD AT BASICALLY ANYTHING. He lowered Terry Crews's worth in their episode, and I won't forgive that.

YES, OH MY GOD, YES! I tweeted it when I started the episode and was so conflicted about watching the episode, because obviously I am so in the tank for Terry Crews -- and given how vocal and public he has been as an ally for abused women, I really wish I knew how he felt about having been paired up with that particular opponent (much as I wish I knew what Andy Richter -- a true feminist in his own right as well as a feminist's husband -- was thinking earlier this week when he had to sit next to Jeremy Renner repeating his view that Black Widow is a slut, but I digress). Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist; none of us should be expected to watch him mouth the lyrics to "Push It."

Please don't bring Tyson onto Hollywood Game Night, please don't do it, Sean Hayes! So speaking of which, I wonder if LSB will make HGN try to up the star power on their panels. Generally, I enjoy Hollywood Game Night more than Lip Sync Battle, but that's mostly because, with six celebs instead of two, you can more easily paper over the duds. But for all its faults (and boy does it have them), Hollywood Game Night makes you work for it. And I feel like that's a big part of the appeal -- watching celebrities have to really WORK for it. Big stars have enough handed to them. It's too depressing to watch them half-ass it to a game-show victory too.

HGN could also stand stricter judging and tougher games, in my opinion, but you're right: while you can just give up in the middle of a game because you've suddenly realized how silly it is or that you're not good at it, you open yourself up to getting judged as a jerk who failed to help a non-famous person win a significant sum of money -- surely the worst crime a celebrity can commit! (I saw a promo for the new season recently and was shocked by how legitimately excited I suddenly was for its return. How drunk will Michael Weatherly get this time?)

In conclusion: I feel like we've done the culture a real service by showing the path for Lip Sync Battle to right its ship -- and, most importantly, we ignored Repeat After Me, as we all do and should.

Help us, Malin Akerman. You're our only hope.