Season 1, Episode 1
Date of release: November 12, 2019 (Disney+)
Reviewing reality television shows on this blog was never a question about whether or not, but when. Back on my old blogs I have tried my hands at writing reviews for JERSEY SHORE and the Bachelor franchise, while also keeping track of SURVIVOR and THE AMAZING RACE, and there is even an opinion piece of the first episode of KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS swirling around. I also tried to watch a whole lot of AMERICAN IDOL back in the day, but the thing about reality TV is that it’s best forgotten after a few weeks. No one will care about a reality show that aired months and years ago, and no one cries to seek opinions of a reality competition show that isn’t part of the current social media zeitgeist. I mean, are you really going to extract people’s opinions of reality television that has aired more than three years ago?
Disney+ comes around and with it a new scripted high-concept show set in a multi-billion dollar franchise, as well as various unscripted reality television fare, which I didn’t even expect I would find words for, let alone watching them. But ENCORE! had an intriguing premise, it has the musical theater background which I love (I myself have background in high school theater, so here I am, comparing my experiences with those of the persons involved in this show), it’s produced by Kristen Bell, whom I don’t mind seeing much much more of (this is a message for Hulu to order another season of VERONICA MARS), and it’s a show that could bring two different ideas into the same television show. One, the depiction of how to bring a musical theater piece on the stage within five days with the help of seasoned and professional Broadway talents, ranging from directing to the music over to wardrobe and make-up. Two, the depiction of the unseasoned and amateurish cast of players who have decided to band together for one more week of high school memories, and feelings of stardom after they have lived average and mediocre lives compared to what television viewers usually get from scripted characters residing in the big and shiny cities of America. ENCORE! is not just a reality show about the adventure of a ragtag group of normal American people getting the opportunity to smell what the theater life looks and sounds like, but it’s also a show about everyday Americans who may have looked like they lived perfect lives during high school, only to confess that this image was far removed from the kind of life they really lived as teenagers.
The premiere episode made the latter premise crystal clear. One of the central character of the opening hour is Deputy Sheriff Jeremy, whose past as a cancer survivor defines his decision whether or not to go bald for his role of Warbucks, because seeing himself without hair on his head would remind him too much of his time as a cancer-battling teenager, which had the result of living without hair for much of the time. One of the supporting characters of his hour is Benaiah, who decided to open up about the gay bashing against him, as he recalls how one time someone threw a can at him from a moving car. All this is being thrown at the audience while the other players of the Little Orphan Annie musical are back, forth and in-between their lives, recalling how much or how nothing has changed since they left high school and how this unique reunion could maybe change things for them just a little. Do they get reinvented while replaying one of their greatest hits as teenagers? Do they get infected by the acting bug and finally follow their dreams of going to Broadway to perform a little more? The answers of those questions may be a definite “No,” but there is something emotional about seeing a group of early Fortysomethings getting together to find out where they stand in life and if it’s a good idea to reanimate their high school personas for a week of rehearsals, singing lessons, and directions from Broadway professionals who probably found the time to make fun of this amateur cast in their minds, in-between rehearsal sessions.
The participants of ENCORE! are just like us, which means here is a television show you can connect with on an emotional level. They lived private lives at home, about which their former high school friends never knew anything about, telling you that you were not the only one dealing with the harsh life fate gave you when you were a teenager. Some of them never knew about the others’ lives until this very moment, when they got together during the lunch break to have conversations, which started off fine, but then turned into something of a therapy session. It’s an element that ENCORE! came out of Disney+ with completely by surprise, making the show instantly interesting to anyone who is looking for a little bit of drama outside of the realm of scripted drama television. And when you come to realize that this isn’t the only premise ENCORE! has to offer and you’re also following the creation of a stage play in the time frame it takes you to make half your paycheck, you maybe come to the conclusion that ENCORE! is the best show Disney+ has to offer that is not part of a multi-billion dollar franchise.