Best Time Ever: Season Review

best-time-ever-091415After eight episodes of giveaways, embarrassed audience members, celebrity hosts, physical challenges, and some crazy acrobatics, Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris has wrapped its first season. Though there is plenty of room for improvement, the variety program shows real promise and deserves a second chance to make Best Time Ever better. Here is a complete list of what worked and what didn’t over the course of the season.

The Things That Worked

The inflatable course for Ticket to Slide
The inflatable course for Ticket to Slide
Physical Challenges

One of the most successful elements of Best Time Ever is its physical challenge segments. Whether Neil is taking on a special guest (i.e. Zachary Levi’s laser obstacle course) or random people are playing the game (like Ticket to Slide), this part of the show usually lets us get outside the studio and root for something. The segment is a welcome change from the in-studio stand-and-talk portions of the show, and it gives us something different and exciting to look at. One word of advice for season two: all “Neil VS” segments need to be physical faceoffs. Talky challenges like the Seth Myers bit unfortunately don’t play well.

Neil joins the Backstreet Boys on stage during Sing Along Live
Neil joins the Backstreet Boys on stage during Sing Along Live
Sing Along Live

What really makes this segment shine is the popular tunes and the unpredictability of the people chosen to sing from their couches. The variables of the song choice and the type of person selected to complete the lyrics lend themselves to unexpected and often amusing results. What will happen when an old granny in Ohio has to complete lyrics to CeeLo Green’s “Forget You”? Or when a macho man from Texas has to remember Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”? You never know what you’re gonna get, and that’s how a live show is supposed to be. The only suggestion I’d make here is to ditch the lame jingle sung by the audience: “More more more! Sing Along Liiiive, sing-along liiiive…”

Jesse Tyler Ferguson tries to explain his creepy doll collection in
Jesse Tyler Ferguson tries to explain his creepy doll collection in “Voices in Your Head”
Voices in Your Head

Best Time Ever basically ripped this off from Ellen’s hilarious Dennis Quaid prank, but I’ll forgive it because seeing other celebrities do it is just as fun. Britney Spears and Cobie Smulders did an admirable job, and Jessie Tyler Ferguson knocked it out of the park. Clearly the BTE team had tweaked and improved the bit by the time they got to Jessie’s segment, because the surprise items were excellent. Creepy dolls and a ball pit make everything funnier! The only thing that needs changing here is the celebrity that joins Neil in the control room. They were often underutilized, so either make the segment longer or cut those celebrity helpers entirely.

Jack Black, announcer extraordinaire
Jack Black, announcer extraordinaire
Celebrity Announcers

Okay, so this is one place that was fairly hit or miss each episode. The idea is a good one if you get the right person. Jack Black, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tyler Perry were great while Kelly Ripa, Reba, and Kelsey Grammer were duds. The reason Black, O’Neal and Perry were great is the dialogue between them and Neil seemed mostly off-the-cuff and natural. They looked like they were having fun up there in the booth. But when you can clearly tell the guest announcer is reciting a (poorly) written joke or scenario, it’s particularly cringe-worthy. I’d vote to keep this aspect of the show, but choose guests more wisely (always high energy!) and keep the banter unscripted. Oh, and move the booth to the stage.

This guy. This is good.
This guy. This is good.
Audience Surprises

Like the guest announcer concept, the idea here is solid. Some of these segments turned out really great, most notably the crazy pants dad and “the Hawk” woman who got played by her kids. But this part of the show can easily veer into the realm of creepy and/or cringing-ly embarrassing. The woman with the diary that you read on national television? Never again Neil. Or the woman in the final episode that was “awarded” three times for three awful things she’d done in her life? Uncomfortably awkward. You have to be careful not to cut too deep and get too personal. Embarrass somebody over their taste in clothing or a bad habit, not the entries of a teenage diary. If the show can keep this segment from going too personal, it should stay.

Things That Didn’t Work

"What am I doing here?"
“What am I doing here?”
Nicole Scherzinger

It’s not her fault, but Nicole Scherzinger was pretty pointless. What did she even do, really? She announced Sing-Along Live and a few other segments. She had painfully awkward scripted banter with Neil. She posed with some of the prizes in the Get Lucky portion of the show. And she served as eye candy, I guess? Scherzinger gave it her all, but in the end the show’s writers and producers just didn’t give her anything substantial. Whether it’s Scherzinger up there or a different attractive celebrity, it doesn’t matter because the point is Best Time Ever doesn’t need a co-host. Neil can do it himself, and any back-and-forth between him and a co-host is poorly scripted anyhow. Scrap it, and maybe give what little Nicole did to the guest announcer.

Sorry little guy, but ya gotta go.
Sorry little guy, but ya gotta go.
Little NPH and Little Nicole

Having little versions of the hosts wasn’t a bad idea, but it never really paid off. Little NPH was always just hanging around in the background, and when he was given a quick line or two, he wasn’t very good. The segment in which the littles had to guess things about their bigs was okay, but it wasn’t a big enough payoff for the gag. I’m sure they’re nice kids, but get rid of them for season two.

"This looked so much cooler in my head."
“This looked so much cooler in my head.”
The End of the Show Show

The Blue Man Group and acrobatic troupes like Cirque du Soleil are fun and exciting to watch… in person. I was in the audience for the Best Time Ever episode with the trampoline acrobats and it was awesome. But these impressive fetes of contortion, strength and concentration don’t translate on screen. You have to see them fly above your head or feel the heat from the fire breather’s flame. Not to mention that there’s a limited variety to these kinds of acts – how many different ways can you really show acrobatics? It was a noble idea for sure, but if Best Time Ever gets a second season they need to rethink how to end the show.

Oh God, please make it stop.
Oh God, please make it stop.
Scripted Jokes & Banter

Best Time Ever is a show that thrives on spontaneity and surprises. With that in mind, why even bother with scripted jokes and gags? That’s not what we’re here for. Not to mention that the writing is exceptionally bad. I’m thinking specifically about Kelly Ripa giving away municipal bonds to trick or treaters. Blegh. Forget hiring better writers – just ditch scripted banter completely and let Neil ad lib with the guest announcers. Improvisation doesn’t always work, but it can’t get much worse than the weak banter this season.

The Bottom Line

Best Time Ever is a fun show full of genuine surprises and amusing guest appearances. That said, it’s not without it’s problems either. Hopefully season two happens, because I think overall the show is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise snooze-inducing lineup on the major networks. Things are off to a good start and we could all have an even better time with a few tweaks here or there.

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