Can Cee Lo Pull Off the John Denver-Style Christmas Special?

What you're watching.
Nov. 30 2012 10:54 AM

Christmas With Cee Lo

With elfish assistance from Rod Stewart, the contestants of The Voice, Miss Piggy, and the Phantom of the Opera.

Cee Lo's Magic Moment Album Cover.
Cee Lo's Magic Moment Album Cover.

The holiday special is a risky thing to attempt in this irony-soaked age. At its core, this type of program is designed to create an intimate, earnest—indeed, “special”—moment, a simulacrum (with varying degrees of glitz) of the joy and warmth we’re supposed to feel with friends and family during the holiday season. Watching a big special at this time of year—whether it’s a variety act or a classic movie like A Charlie Brown Christmas—promises the sense that the whole country is at one big Christmas party, everyone taking a break from the stress of our individual lives and stepping inside for an hour of cheer and hot chocolate. It’s old-fashioned, charming, cozy, delicate—and therefore, very, very easy to mess up.

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

Enter Cee Lo’s Magic Moment (TV Guide Network, Friday at 8 p.m. ET). The title art for Cee Lo Green’s new Christmas special features a scene of the singer careening out of control. The candy-apple Cadillac carrying him (bundled in snowy furs, of course) threatens to overrun a trio of flying white horses, while Santa C’s bag of presents—including his successful back catalog of neo-soul and Southern hip-hop hits—tumble, one-by-one, off into star-spangled space. The glowing reflection in Cee Lo’s sunglasses and expressionless face suggests something terribly bright in his future—but what? The glitter of Las Vegas, perhaps? Or, more specifically, the strobes and lasers and spotlighting of an overproduced, under-rehearsed Christmas show taking place in one of that city’s kitschy casinos? 

The sad thing is, it didn’t have to be this way. The holiday special need not be a stupid retro joke, nor need it be a craven grab for brand recognition—Lady Gaga’s A Very Gaga Thanksgiving last fall, while not perfect, was neither of those things. But Cee Lo’s slapdash evening, alas, is.

Advertisement

In the program’s first moments, a surprising admission reveals exactly what we’re in for: “A Christmas show in support of my Christmas album, Cee Lo Green’s Magic Moment.” Oh: So this is an infomercial, really. But then, given his aggressive pursuit of pop cultural notoriety since the arrival of his breakout hit, “Fuck You,” maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. A profile published in Fast Company earlier this year reveals the Joan Rivers-like lengths Cee Lo has gone to in order to cement his fame:

Cee Lo moved fast: mocking his taboo lyrics on Saturday Night Live; performing in feathers on the Grammys with the Muppets and Gwyneth Paltrow; spinning his piano upside down over the audience at the Billboard Music Awards. Since then, he's played the Super Bowl and a fundraiser for President Obama, to cite obvious highlights. Despite appearances, "we don't do it all,” Cee Lo says. "We do what counts. If there was an easier way to be branded the way that I am branded now, I'm sure we would have entertained that as an option. But if that's what was necessary to become the brand that I am, then I wouldn't change a thing.”

The allure of Cee Lo’s brand, and especially his musical performance here, can be effectively summed up in his half-hearted delivery of the line, “I said a-rooty-toot-toot and a-rum-pa-pum-pum.” But a piecemeal show like this depends, at least to some extent, on the quality of your special guest stars. The first? None other than the Phantom of the Opera, who emerges from beneath the background projection screen, which has heretofore displayed visualizations of the type you might see on an old version of Windows Media Player. Being a maestro, he is, of course, surrounded by a battery of some kind of instrument-devices. His very serious, very awkward gesturing suggests that they are motion activated (like Theremins), but when his big solo moment comes, nothing audible happens. The unmasked half of his face looks sheepish. 

Then, there are Cee Lo’s students from The Voice where he is a judge and mentor. He has kindly brought them all on a field trip to Vegas, and there are so many of them that differentiating enough to judge individual talent is mostly impossible. However, when one labeled (in, it seems, Word Art) as Jamar Rogers is tasked with singing “This Christmas” with Cee Lo and another classmate, he can’t seem to clap in time. Also, did you hear what I heard? Yes, that high note that the one called James Massone was supposed to sing was overdubbed, and I swear on my Autotune that the disembodied voice was Cee Lo’s, not his. The patch job is fabulously grating and gutsy—even magical, in its way.

And, bless their souls, I haven’t even mentioned the awkward number in which a bemused Rod Stewart and Cee Lo spend a few harrowing minutes gesturing toward each other’s precarious masculinity, or showmanship, or something, or the unsettling moment when Cee Lo has the gall to hit on Mrs. Piggy, creepily noting with pleasure the size of her nose and later offering that, you know, he is, himself, “kind of a big Muppet, a little bit.”

Here’s the question that all this raises: Has Cee Lo Green successfully transformed from musician into a showman? Or put another way, from artist into novelty item? After all, novelty items can be wonderful and entertaining in their own way. However, if this special is any indication of Cee Lo’s future as a song-and-dance man (he is set to launch a show in Vegas titled Cee Lo Green is LOBERACE), there’s a great deal of room for improvement. My recommendations: Create something that doesn’t look like it took three hours and some Scotch tape to throw together, and—small steps!—actually appear interested in your own performance.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?