And, we're back. For the fourth straight season, "The Voice" has returned to NBC, and for the fourth straight season, Adam Levine had a Brink's truck filled with white T-shirts back into his driveway and plop a wardrobe on his front lawn. After an off-season that clearly proved the suits at the Peacock were reading this blog religiously for the last few years (two new judges!), the best thing to happen to NBC in ages has returned with a new look and ...
... a new feel? Somewhat.
Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo Green are out. Two pop stars sooooooo important, they go by only one name each — Shakira and Usher — are in. Blake Shelton still looks like he spends his weekends on the independent pro wrestling circuit. And, most importantly, Carson Daly still has a job. Television's most popular karaoke contest has returned, and "American Idol" was last seen crying itself to sleep in a darkened room during an out-take from "Celebrity Rehab."
The verdict? Welp, let's start with ratings. Take it away, Mr. Michael O'Connell at the Hollywood Reporter ...
"NBC had the night's strongest broadcast with The Voice (3.9 adults)," he wrote Wednesday. "The episode was down nine tenths of a point (19 percent) from Monday's two-hour season opener, and its addition to the schedule boosted Go On (2.1 adults) and The New Normal (1.4 adults) to highs not seen since the comedies last had the strong lead. Go On, which had Matthew Perry reunite with Friends co-star Courteney Cox, was up 1.1 points from its last original, while The New Normal finale saw a smaller boost of half a point. The Voice momentum didn't carry over to Smash, though. The series pulled a 1.0 adults rating, up just three tenths of a point. NBC averaged a 2.2 rating with adults 18-49 and 6.6 million viewers."
Ahhhhh, Matt LeBlanc says as he pets DVD copies of "Episodes." So, "Friends" alumni do still have some pull!
So, how'd it go? It went ... fine? Predictable? All right? OK? Not bad? Decent? Unsurprising? Pick a word, any word, and you won't be incorrect.
My biggest takeaway from the fourth season's first episode is more a question than it is a revelation: Is "The Voice" losing steam because of its familiarity, or is the "The Voice" losing steam because of the singing-competition bubble bursting? The ratings were fine, of course, but there was an air about this season's premiere that seemed uncomfortably plastic. And yes, more so than usual.
The addition of Usher and Shakira is admittedly a step up from what the whole thing had offered previously (on not one, but two — two! — occasions, Shakira made me laugh out loud as she mocked her fellow new cast-mate). Their presence simply speaks louder than their predecessors' did, Usher having all the clout in the world because he introduced us to Justin Bieber and Shakira presenting herself in a more adult and sincere manner than Xtina could ever dream of exuding. If nothing else, the playful and completely unnatural banter between the judges seems more blatantly fake with these four, and in a weird way, it makes the entire operation seem more professional and thought-out, rather than forced and put-on (example: Mr. L and Ms. A spatting back and forth like playground lovers became too uncomfortable to watch at times throughout the first three go-arounds and each judge lost a level of authority for it).
The flaws are still there, of course. Throwing Usher on bass guitar and Adam Levine on drums to fake their respective ways through "Come Together" (come on, man — you went to the toms and we heard snare!) was reprehensible, and the staged backstage conversation between the two newbies was so scripted, you felt like you were watching an episode of "The Hills." But — and, that's a big but — Cee-Lo, for as much as I like him, is a cartoon, and Aguilera is just so darn hard to respect. The slight change in pace serves this group well for pragmatic reasons, though lest we be reminded of the fact that pragmatism doesn't resonate well with the singing-competition-voting, reality-television-watchnig public. Thus, the ultimate result in all of this may be a one-and-done for the show's new friends.
Actually, speaking of leaving, Mr. Lambert made news for the second straight season premiere when he addressed how he plans on making an exit from the show to Brian Mansfield at USA Today.
"My exit strategy probably will be when I say, 'I’ve got to have this much money to do this again,’ and they’re going to go, 'We’re not going to pay you that much money,’” he told the Mansfield. "I don’t know what I’m going to do. Or when I’m going to do it. It’s such a neat thing to be a part of. It would be hard not to get to do it ever again.”
Hey, at least he's grounded!
The best moment of this season's initial episode? Judith Hill, who slowed down Xtina's "What A Girl Wants" and ... HOLY GOD, SHE SLOWED DOWN XTINA'S "WHAT A GIRL WANTS." The uppercase letters were for emphasis.
No, but really: Wow. She landed with Adam, even though she may have benefited more from opting for Usher (for being in a pop soul band, Maroon 5's Achilles heel has forever been Levine's thin voice, and his lack of soul, ironically enough). Still, the moment was a very loud reminder of how true talent can always stumble their way onto these types of platforms. And when they do, goodness, gracious, it makes for great television.
As for the rest of the show? Well, Shakira still sounds like Kermit the Frog willing his way through laryngitis, Adam still remains bro-tabulous, Usher still somehow looks equally surprised and uninterested, and Blake ...
It should be interesting to see how the season plays out. Will it remain a ratings powerhouse or will this be end of the line? Is Usher the next Victor Wooten? Is Adam Levine the next Buddy Rich? Is Shakira going to bring her soccer star boy toy, Gerard Pique, onto the set to stop the rest of the cast from constantly flirting with her? Will anyone ever hear from Cee-Lo again?
Who knows? And as for now, who cares? I mean, my God. There should be only one thing we remember from it all, anyway, and that one thing is below this sentence.