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- Rent: Live but, uh, not actually live.
- The greatest celebrity baby shower there ever was.
- Everything you need to know about a very strong Sundance Film Festival.
- Ariana Grande’s tattoo mishap.
- The one episode of TV you need to watch this week.
Rent: Live Literally Breaks a Leg...And Our Hearts
There have been nearly 525,600 minutes in the year since Fox announced that it would be producing a live version of Rent, and yet not one was spent thinking, “Hey, maybe we should cast an understudy.”
In a jaw-dropping turn of events to anyone who has projectiled their voice box directly from their throat while screeching the Maureen riffs of “Take Me or Leave Me” at the cast after-party for their junior year production of Guys and Dolls, Rent: Live did not go live Sunday night. Star Brennin Hunt, who played Roger, broke his ankle during the last moments of the big event’s dress rehearsal, condemning the suave rocker to a wheelchair. That meant an inability to scale the show’s iconic scaffolding set, and therefore also meant that the majority of the telecast would have to be the taped dress rehearsal.
This is apparently the contingency producers have always had in place should sound go out and rehearsal footage need to be swapped in to keep the telecast moving. (Did you know this apparently happened for 10 seconds during Grease Live? I did not! I feel hoodwinked!) This, it should not need to be said, made for a depressingly lame show. It wasn’t until the last scenes of the telecast that Fox swapped the dress rehearsal footage for the cast performing live, with Hunt’s foot in a cast.
The show came alive at that moment. Because it was actually live! You know why insufferable theater people go on and on (and on and on) about how there’s no feeling like going live on stage? Because it’s true! That’s what we wanted from Rent: Live... for it to actually be, I dunno... live? Riffing on the iconic “Seasons of Love” lyric, The New York Times review headline says it all: “How Do You Measure a Show You Were Never Meant to See?”
Of course, this is Rent. You’d be a monster if you didn’t weep uncontrollably as Brandon Victor Dixon sang the “I’ll Cover You” reprise, or swoon over the adorkable Jordan Fisher as Mark. And the original Broadway cast joining the Fox stars for the live finale is the kind of moment specifically engineered to emotionally destroy me.
Also, it is the year 2019 and it is time we all paid due attention to the fact that Vanessa Hudgens is, in fact, a superstar. Where so much of the taped telecast suffered from the cast marking their vocals to save their energy, our icon of princess switching delivered the kind of barn-burning, go-for-broke performance worthy of musical theater’s greatest mooing role.
These live musicals have developed a reputation for “hate watching,” but this time it felt different. Rent means a lot to people. That this musical, tackling these issues, was going to be airing live across the country mattered. We—or, at least I—genuinely wanted it to be spectacular. What a disappointment.
The Housewives Throw a Baby Shower
The Real Housewives, as in all of them, threw the Grand Poobah of Bravo, Andy Cohen, a baby shower in Los Angeles. In 2003, the Oscars united 58 living past winners of an Academy Award for acting on stage for the 75th anniversary of the ceremony. It was the most prestigious gathering of artists possibly ever, and one of the most impressive cultural moments we’ve had. This is my version of that.
A Very Buzzy Sundance Film Festival
We spent the last week in Park City, grappling with the reality that high altitude severely amplifies white wine hangovers and that the act of walking up a flight of stairs could very well induce a heart attack. (Fallons are a sea-level people!) But mostly we saw movies, a lot of them. Thirteen to be exact, matching the approximate cumulative hours of sleep we got. And you know what? It was worth it. It was among the strongest Sundance Film Festivals we’ve been to.
The hits were big. Emma Thompson plays TV’s only female late-night host in Late Night, a hilarious comedy written by Mindy Kaling with a pointed message loud enough to be heard, but subtle enough to not be obnoxious. Adam Driver, Annette Bening, and everyone you’ve ever loved (Jon Hamm! Corey Stoll! Maura Tierney! Matthew Rhys! Michael C. Hall!) star in the real-life story about the release of the Torture Report, earning every comparison to Spotlight that it got as critics exited its premiere screening. And Brittany Runs a Marathon featured a star turn from the always hilarious Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street) in a role tailor made for her talents.
But what struck me about this year at Sundance—and which Grouchy Ole Kevin so sorely needed—was the amount of heart on screen. Director Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, starring Awkwafina, was the best movie we saw this year, making you want to clutch your hands to your heart and soak in the amount of love you just witnessed. Blinded By the Light, a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of Bruce Springsteen’s music, was the biggest buy of the festival at $15 million, and the film that earned the most sniffles. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez featured in the documentary Knock Down the House, which brought the house to a collective ugly cry during its Park City premiere.
And then there was Leaving Neverland, the much-talked-about, four-hour documentary in which two men detail the alleged sexual abuse and child rape they experienced at the hands of Michael Jackson when they were 7 and 10-years-old, respectively. It’s a horrifying, disturbing, upsetting watch, and a sledgehammer to Jackson’s already complicated legacy. But it’s also a compassionate documentary that resists the temptation to reduce its running time to salacious details, instead exploring the lingering effects of abuse long into a survivor’s adulthood.
All of that, and we haven’t even mentioned that Zac Efron arrived looking like the world’s sexiest bumblebee, or that there was a horror satire starring an oft-naked Jake Gyllenhaal as a bisexual art critic. Sundance was great this year. Get excited for these movies!
Ariana Grande’s Japanese Tattoo Mix-Up
Ariana Grande meant to get a tattoo that read “7 Rings” in Japanese kanji, in honor of her new hit song, but the symbols that she had inscribed on her body actually translate to “shichirin,” which is a small charcoal grill that Japanese people use to barbecue food. The biggest pop star in the world accidentally got “BBQ Grill” tattooed in Japanese. The cliche jumped out!
The Stunning, Must-See Hedwig Episode of Sex Education
Netflix’s coming-of-age teen comedy, starring Asa Butterfield as an awkward teenager who siphons his sex therapist mother’s (Gillian Anderson) expertise and starts offering his own services to students at his high school, is the kind of series we’d imagine John Hughes would make if he were still alive and game to cash that big-ass Netflix paycheck.
It’s sexy and uncomfortable and heartfelt and entertaining, but also features a wokeness and understanding about teenage life that is sorely missing from so many teen dramas today. It tackles race, sex positivity, abortion, cyber-bullying, sexting, addiction, privilege, female agency, and a nuanced look at gayness in 2019, as well as the same old teenage things: hormones, insecurity, cruelty, crushes, heartbreak, pressure, innocence lost, bullying.
And while the series as a whole is worth a watch, it’s episode five, a showcase for Ncuti Gatwa’s Eric, an openly gay outcast yearning for the fabulousness in life he deserves, that’s the season’s high mark. It starts with Eric and Butterfield’s Otis dressing in drag as the transgender lead character from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for a screening to celebrate Eric’s birthday. When Otis stands him up, Eric is stranded in heels, a miniskirt, and a massive wig. The episode explores the dangers, no matter how woke a universe a show builds, that still very much exist—as we’ve been so tragically reminded of this week—for gay people of color in this world.
It’s a hard-to-watch, but beautiful episode, one that elevates Sex Education from a show that’s cute to one that may even be important.
What to see this week:
Russian Doll: Natasha Lyonne does Groundhog Day and you better believe that’s as wildly entertaining as it sounds.
Velvet Buzzsaw: Dan Gilroy puts Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Toni Collette in a gonzo Final Destination satire set in the art world. It’s ludicrous. We love lunacy!
Miss Bala: Gina Rodriguez, action star. Why are you still reading this and not buying tickets immediately?
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What to skip this week:
The Super Bowl: We all know we don’t have to watch it, right? Like, it’s not a law.
The World’s Best: I have not seen this show, and yet I can say with with unequivocal certainty that Drew Barrymore, RuPaul, and Faith Hill have no business being anywhere near it.
Man With a Plan: Gather around, children, while I tell you a scary story: This Matt LeBlanc sitcom is now in its third season.