Last week, when the Fox series The Masked Singer wrapped up its first season after eight weeks, many breathed a sigh of relief. Not because the suspense of learning the identity of every last one of the disguised celebrities was finally over, but rather because some seem to believe that the show somehow represents an all-time low for television, if not the human race.
First of all, if you’re of that mind-set, you’re shit outta luck: the show’s been renewed, which should come as no surprise (good or bad) to anyone who’s seen the ratings.
Just in case you’re somehow not familiar with the show: The Masked Singer begins with twelve participants, each dressed in elaborate full-body costumes of a distinct character, usually an animal. These are all persons of note from varying arenas – acting, comedy, sports, and music (so far no reality stars, for which the show deserves considerable bonus points). With their every appearance they perform a cover song, and clues are provided for celebrity panelists to try to put it all together and guess their identities. At the end of each episode, one contestant is eliminated and has to unmask.
True to the theme of disguise and deception, everything here is not quite as it seems: while classified as a singing competition in roughly the vein of American Idol or The Voice, having former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw croon on the same stage as R&B legend Gladys Knight can hardly be called “competition,” any more than if those very same participants were vying to see who could throw a football the furthest.
Photo Credit: FOX
The pattern of eliminations suggests as much. Although Bradshaw outlasted Tommy Chong by one week, it’s been an almost systematic ousting of first sports figures, then actors, finally leaving music stars. The decision lies with the studio audience rather than the general public (who we know perfectly well would not vote for their “favorites” but rather against the ones they’d most want to see unmasked).
Despite the elaborate staging and choreography (often featuring dancers) involved, when all is sang and done the show’s musical performances are pretty much just filler. The crux of the hour is the segments involving the celebrity panel – including actress/model Jenny McCarthy and musicians Robin Thicke and Nicole Scherzinger – as they fall over one another trying to guess the identity of the participants. However, it’s doctor-turned-comedian Ken Jeong, and his trademark brash-but-somehow-likable persona, who steals every scene he’s in just as easily as he did in the movie The Hangover.
Although supposedly it’s directly based on a program from South Korea, The Masked Singer is essentially a dressed-up – which is to say literally and very dressed-up – version of long-running American panel shows like What’s My Line? and I’ve Got a Secret. And surprisingly, few people (if any) appear to have drawn a comparison to Masquerade Ball, a show from the late Seventies in which panelists attempted to guess the identity of stars who appeared as characters in heavy latex makeup.
Photo Credit: Michael Becker/FOX
The stakes for The Masked Singer’s ultimate victor aren’t exactly fate-of-the-world high either, as what they receive is a simple trophy – yes, a trophy – which looks like it’s probably smaller than those awarded to third-place winners of bowling tournaments in Peoria, Illinois (suggestion for future Masked Singer seasons: offer as the grand prize a six-figure donation to the charity of the participant’s choosing. It would help the show’s image, and you know they can afford it).
While Tori Spelling appeared as a unicorn, an actual horse was not a character donned by any single participant – let alone four. Hence, it’s hard to image why anyone would view the show as some kind of sign of the apocalypse. Probably its most toxic effect will be ensuring we’ll now be seeing more shows like it and fewer like Better Call Saul. But outside of that, The Masked Singer is probably the most harmless thing on TV this side of PAW Patrol.
Rapper T-Pain was this season’s winner, and it’s sort of fitting that his character was a big, furry Muppet-like monster: as kids, it might have scared us at first, until we realize it’s make-believe, and then can enjoy it as the inconsequential but undeniable fun which it truly represents… sort of like The Masked Singer.