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 V.17 No.33 | August 14 - 20, 2008 

Idiot Box

Go Ahead, Sucker. Get Verklempt.

"The Singing Office" on TLC

No, it's not a musical episode of the original, British "The Office," including such great hits as "Free Love Freeway," the best worst song you ever rocked out to. Chorus:

Free love on the free love freeway,

The love is free and the freeway’s long …

I got some hot love on the hot-love freeway

I ain’t going home cos’ my baby’s gone

And though I fully endorse the American "The Office" pursuing an all-musical episode, "The Singing Office" boasts more charm than you can shake a wireless microphone at.

I wasn't expecting this show to be good. Sadly, as a sign of my full-on cable addiction, I sometimes find myself watching nothing in particular on TV. To my pleasant surprise, "The Singing Office" is watchable and then some.

Mel B (a spice girl who's not as grating as one might think) and Joey Fatone of 'N Sync (who's a surprisingly flat co-host) show up at workplaces and hold auditions. The contestants make it work: Elementary school employees vs. hotel workers; an airline takes on a zoo; animal shelter volunteers battle school bus drivers;

After Fatone and B hold the auditions, the squads are selected. Often, the teams cut across class lines. The car salesmen all know each other but have never spoken to the guy from maintenance who can really belt it out.

The subplots of certain contestants often propel the hour along. One of the school bus drivers has a wonderful voice and even wanted years ago to make a run at going pro. Marriage and children got in the way, stifling her talent until now. The opportunity for her to sing a cover tune and learn a dance routine becomes the emotional engine for an engaging episode.

No, these are not the colorful characters you'll find on other competitive reality shows where week to week they snipe at one another while trumpeting their own drive and successes. These are regular people who’ve had opportunity thrust upon them. They pull together, rehearsing with a vocal coach, then donning costumes assembled for them that have something to do with the theme of their classic hit song.

At the end of each ep, the teams perform for a live studio audience—mostly families and friends who've never seen these people in a spotlight.

The winning teams from each episode make it to the finale on Aug. 24, where they’ll break it down onstage for a shot at $50,000. Between now and then, there's another episode on Aug. 17 that pits an aquarium against a mattress store.

The whole affair is kind of touching in an unforced and not terribly cheesy way. The more sappy among us might even find themselves getting a little veclemped as the security guard and closet jazz singer saves a team of his colleagues who maybe never even noticed him before.

Under it all is one unintended message: We can all be like (insert pop-star name here). It's fulfilling and not even that hard. And surprise, surprise, hitmakers. I like watching people like me kick ass more than I like hearing society’s elite through a vocoder.

 

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