At the beginning of Lip Sync Battle, host LL Cool J tells viewers how simple the show’s concept is — two stars lip-sync two songs, then the audience decides who did it best. It is a simple concept. Perhaps too simple. Unlike other celebrity reality competitions, the stakes aren’t high. Actually, there aren’t any stakes at all — no dance moves to falter on and no high notes that might not be hit.
Still, the two debut episodes had moments of great fun. In the premiere, Jimmy Fallon faced off against Dwayne Johnson. Fallon has popularized the lip sync battle concept on The Tonight Show, and his Eight Million Plus Productions is behind the series. It’s clear Fallon genuinely loves lip-syncing, being goofy and coaxing celebrities out of their comfort zone, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Of the two songs performed, the first is a straightforward endeavor. The second song is a much more elaborate number. Fallon was backed by a choir for Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and Johnson had a bunch of white pantsuit-wearing dancers pointing their fingers to the sky for the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
John Legend competed against his Oscar co-winner, Common, in the night’s second episode. Common donned a Lionel Ritchie wig for “All Night Long,” while Legend had M.C. Hammer‘s dance moves and parachute pants down for “U Can’t Touch This.” The celebrities are clearly having a blast, and there’s something intrinsically entertaining about watching someone like The Rock shimmy to a Taylor Swift song or Common dance to The Jackson 5.
But the show has a ton of filler for something that’s only half an hour, starting with model Chrissy Teigen as Lip Sync Battle‘s “color commentator.” The visibly nervous and scantily clad Teigen stumbled over her lines (but she did look great doing it). Even her interactions with husband Legend were awkward. “What the f— was that?” she asks him after he performs. She was joking, of course, but it didn’t quite work.
A behind-the-scenes segment shows the contenders prepping for their performances and talking trash. “My last name is Legend. His name is Common. Who do you think is going to win this?” Legend boasts. And the celebs have the chance to talk up the crowd. Fallon notes the pool of people watching them in the audience and says, “You know what happens when you put a rock in a pool? It sinks.”
The winner is determined by audience applause, so suffice it to say accuracy of voting is not a priority. In the second episode, Common was declared the winner while, to me, it seemed that Legend had the louder, more enthusiastic applause. The victor gets to hold the Lip Sync Battle belt, which must be directly related to the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing With the Stars.
The whole show feels like we’re in on one big inside joke — as if this is what celebrities do to entertain themselves at swanky parties. No one is taking anything that seriously. Ten episodes have already been taped, and Spike ordered eight additional episodes last month. With Fallon, John Krasinski and Stephen Merchant as executive producers, the featured celebrities are ones who would probably never do a real celebrity competition show. And the pairings are fun. Former The Devil Wears Prada co-stars Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt will compete next week. Future showdowns include Anna Kendrick vs. John Krasinski and Mike Tyson vs. Terry Crews.
But, in the end, the show still seems like it is better suited as an interlude on The Tonight Show. Like an ill-fated movie adaptation of a Saturday Night Live skit, Lip Sync Battle suggests some things are better in small doses.