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Did ‘Grease: Live’ Set a New Standard for Judging TV Musicals?

Did 'Grease: Live' Set a New Standard for Judging TV Musicals?

“Grease! Live”

When Fox first announced it was going to air a live version of the popular stage and film sensation “Grease,” there wasn’t much to be said outside of, “Well, here comes another live TV musical.” While plenty of people were excited to hear some of their favorite musical numbers performed on live TV (and see Julianne Hough as both the good and bad versions of Sandy), no one really expected anything all that ambitious. But what we got Sunday night was ambitious — at least, from a production standpoint.

With the camera swirling around expansive sets as the stars hand-jived their way through elaborately choreographed numbers, most critics and audience members alike agreed “Grease: Live” took the modern take on live musicals to a new level. The direction and production didn’t just take full advantage of their multiple stages across the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, CA, but drew attention to the fact that they were doing just that. The sets were as much a part of the show as the actors, providing another level to a genre that previously consisted of judging vocal performances, acting, costumes and maybe the transitions between commercial breaks.

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Cutting to actors discussing their love for each other — out of character — and watching them get carted to and from each stage added a level of urgency and excitement to what turned out to be a true live “event.” In contrast, much of the discussion leading up to the big night was in regard to the outdated and sexist language used in some of the songs, as well as the general message an audience has drawn and would draw from the story of “Grease.” And the story was pretty much left as is for the new version, with a few tweaks toward modernity and self-awareness, but leaving lines like, “Did she put up a fight?” untouched.

So when it came time to judge the story as a whole, it’s not such an easy task — for audiences or critics. Gut reactions seemed focused on how fun it was, or at least how much enjoyment fans got out of it, but should we be digging deeper into whether or not it was a good idea to make an event on broadcast TV about that story? Here to discuss the question as well as how we generally judge similar live TV events are Indiewire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers via Very Good TV Podcast. In this 46th episode, Indiewire’s TV Team digs into their favorite aspects of the sub-genre, their reservations about it and what to look forward to in the future.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Very Good TV Podcast via Soundcloud or iTunes. Follow Indiewire on Twitter and Facebook for all your pertinent TV news — as well as the latest reviews and analysis on all the best television shows of 2016, not just “The X-Files” — plus check out Liz and Ben’s Twitter feeds for more, more, more. Plus, don’t forget to listen to Indiewire’s other podcasts, Screen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, as well as Indiewire Influencers, hosted by Editor in Chief Dana Harris and featuring various guests relevant to anyone tracking independent film or entertainment in general.

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– An independently-produced TV show is premiering on HBO this Friday. Jessica Chastain does a voice in it. So watch the trailer, at least.

Louis C.K. dropped a new TV show on the web this past weekend. Liz is here to tell you whether it’s worth the $5.

– “Better Call Saul” Season 2 is almost here! Let Liz tell you why the heartbreak is worth it.

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